Parkinson's sufferers 'laughed at'
An estimated 69,000 people have experienced hostility and rudeness from members of the public because of their Parkinson's disease , a charity has claimed.
The complex condition affects around 127,000 people in the UK, with key symptoms being shaking, stiffness and rigidity of movement.
Parkinson's UK revealed nearly half (46%) of the people it questioned said the condition has led them to depression, while three out of five (62%) experience anxiety, and sufferers could do without also being made to feel like a "zoo exhibit".
Its survey of more than 2,100 people with Parkinson's found a third (32%) have been stared at, a quarter (25%) have had symptoms mistaken for drunkenness, and one in ten (11%) have had others laugh at them.
More than half (55%) said they had experienced hostility and rudeness, with one in five (19%) of these saying they would rather skip a meal and go hungry than venture out to the shops and 15% feeling trapped inside their homes.
The charity, which has released the findings to coincide with Parkinson's Awareness Week, warned insensitive public reactions could be wreaking "untold damage" on the mental health of those with the condition.
Parkinson's UK clinical director and consultant neurologist, Professor David Burn, said: "It's devastating to see the added burden thoughtless reactions from the public are having on people with Parkinson's.
"Patients I see in the clinic are already battling a myriad of neurological symptoms including anxiety, depression and insomnia. The last thing they need is to feel like a zoo exhibit when they step out of their front door.
"It's a situation where simple kindness and old-fashioned manners can actually have a life-changing impact on people with Parkinson's.
"Understanding, patience and empathy can make the difference to someone with Parkinson's as to whether they feel imprisoned in their own home, or confident to go out in public."
Karen Wenmouth, 47, from Stoke in Coventry, said her husband Richard, 33, was pointed towards and laughed at after finding out he had Parkinson's at the age of 26.
She said: "When Richard was first diagnosed he had a lot of trouble walking - he wasn't able to control his arms and legs, and was extremely self-conscious in public.
"Once we were coming out of a restaurant and two 20-something men started laughing and pointing. I told them that he had Parkinson's and they apologised, but the damage to Richard was already done.
"He just wishes the public were more understanding - and not to be judgemental when he's slurring his speech and shuffling around. It's not because he's drunk. I think it's particularly hard for him because he's a young man."
The charity is urging people to sign up to pledge small acts of kindness to people with the condition during Parkinson's Awareness Week.
Parkinson's, which affects more men than women, usually sees symptoms start to develop in people over 50, although around one in 20 first experience symptoms when they are under 40.
There is currently no cure for the progressive neurological condition, although treatments are available to help reduce the main symptoms and maintain quality of life for as long as possible.