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Ohio State University Extension


Farming with Parkinson’s Disease

Ohio AgrAbility Fact Sheet Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. D​ee Jepsen, Assistant Professor, State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University
Kent McGuire, Ohio AgrAbility Program Coordinator, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University
Danielle Poland, Student Intern, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University

Parkinson's disease is the second most diagnosed neurodegenerative disease. It typically develops later in life and slowly progresses resulting from a deficiency in the brain of dopamine, one of many chemical messengers in the brain permitting nerve cells to communicate with each other. Without it, messages from the brain to the muscles are disrupted.

Parkinson's disease is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental risk factors and genetic susceptibility. Use of pesticides and Parkinson's disease have been associated, but it has not been narrowed down to specific pesticides or how the amount of exposure contributed.

It can be difficult to continue to farm with Parkinson's disease. Tremors and rigidity can make it hard to hold hand tools, preventing you from making your own repairs. Diminishing balance can increase the potential of a secondary injury from a slip, trip, or fall. Not only is it difficult to adjust to the side effects of the disease, but also the medicine used to treat Parkinson's disease can also cause nausea, vomiting, involuntary movements, light-headedness, confusion, insomnia and dizziness, which can dramatically reduce productivity.

Effects of Parkinson's Disease On the Body Include:

  • Tremors.
  • Muscle stiffness/rigidity.
  • Difficulty maintaining balance.
  • Delayed speech.
  • People with Parkinson's disease usually retain a normal intellectual level. Family members sometimes grow concerned because of what appears to be a lack of comprehension or understanding because of delayed speech and everyday tasks taking longer, but individuals with Parkinson's disease know exactly what they want to do, but are unable to process their thoughts or actions as quickly as before.

Signs of Parkinson's Disease:

  • A changed facial expression
  • Developing a soft, monotone voice
  • Small, cramped handwriting
  • Painful stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Depression

If Diagnosed:

  • Continue regular daily activities to help maintain mobility.
  • Lead as normal a life as possible, not restricting activities that are still possible.
  • Establish a regular exercise program consisting of stretching and weight bearing.
  • Walking 30 minutes each day can be a realistic goal.
  • Seek advice from a rehabilitation specialist as soon as possible for help determining an exercise level, overcoming problems with balance and safety, difficulties with speech, or for fatigue and stress management.
  • Adaptive training and use of quad-canes or straight canes, and other mechanical aids help with balance problems.
  • Try to avoid unnecessary stress in your life. Leading a healthy life, eating regularly, sleeping regularly, and exercising will help keep you fit both mentally and physically.
  • All symptoms of Parkinson's disease get worse under stress.
  • Ask the doctor about regulating treatments so that treatments are more effective during peak work conditions.

How to Prevent Parkinson's Disease:

Parkinson's disease does not appear to be preventable. A few correlations have been discovered that can lower the chances of Parkinson's disease developing. They are:

  • High levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity like biking and swimming. Most farmers feel like they receive plenty of exercise a day, but it probably is not vigorous activity. Try leaving the utility vehicle at home and walking briskly.
  • Be sure to consume the recommended amount of vegetables. Higher amounts of fresh and raw vegetables are best.
  • Avoid excess iron and manganese. Make sure the extra supplements are actually needed.
  • When working with pesticides or paint only do so in a well-ventilated area and wear a respirator that can be bought at most hardware stores.

Safety precautions need to be taken by everyone on the farm; however, for farmers diagnosed with Parkinson's disease it is especially important to follow some simple safety precautions.

  • Try to avoid working alone at all times. If possible, keep a cell phone or walkie-talkie in your pocket. If using a walkie-talkie, the other person should be close to help you and be able to call 911.
  • Always tell someone reliable where you will be. If plans change, let them know.
  • Install rails around raised surfaces and pits.
  • Try to avoid the hot sun.
  • Take breaks to avoid fatigue.
  • Remain seated for 20 minutes after a meal to help your blood supply to circulate.
  • Consider allowing someone else to run equipment that has a higher risk of entrapment and entanglement.
  • Keep in mind and try to compensate for slowed reaction by using power tools on slow speed and operate machinery at a slower speed.
  • Wear clothes that make you more visible in case of a fall. Others will be able to easily find you and you will be more visible to those operating machinery.


This fact sheet was reviewed by Karen Mancl, PhD, Professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University; Josh Svarda, Program Coordinator, Easter Seals Work Resource Center; and John Zeller, Rural Rehabilitation Specialist, Ohio AgrAbility.


BioMed Central/BMC Neurology. (2008). Link between pesticides and Parkinson's strengthened with family study. ScienceDaily.

Hitti, M. (2007). Exercise may help prevent Parkinson's. WebMD.

Mercola, J., & Droege, R. (2003). How to avoid Parkinson's disease.

Wiley-Blackwell. (2009). Parkinson's disease associated with pesticide exposure in French farm workers. ScienceDaily.

About AgrAbility Based Fact Sheets

These fact sheets were developed to promote success in agriculture for Ohio's farmers and farm families coping with a disability or long-term health condition. AgrAbility offers information and referral materials such as this fact sheet, along with on-site assessment, technical assistance, and awareness in preventing secondary injuries. Fact sheets were developed with funding from NIFA, project number OHON0006.

Originally posted Jan 26, 2012.