Background: Parkinson's disease (PD) is associated with progressive mobility and walking difficulties. Although these aspects have been found to be central from a patient perspective, the perceived significance of walking is less well understood. Objective: To explore the significance of walking as perceived and experienced by individuals with PD. Methods: Eleven persons with PD (seven men; median age, 71 years; median PD duration, 7 years) participated. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, which were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were qualitatively analysed by systematic text condensation. Results: The ability to walk had a complex and multifaceted impact on the participants, including physical, psychological and emotional aspects as well as on the ability to be active in daily life and to participate in society. The central role of coping strategies was prominent in filtering emotional reactions to physical changes, and when managing the activities and participation in everyday situations. The sense of unpredictability, uncertainty and loss of control were underlying phenomena in all categories. Furthermore, inability to manage walking difficulties had a negative impact on the participants' self-concept. Conclusions: The central meaning of being able to walk appears to be intimately linked to an individual's social identity, emotional well-being and integrity. Consequently, being able to walk independently was a prerequisite to an autonomous life and participation in society. This implies that rehabilitation and other mobility interventions also need to consider individual emotional, psychological, and social implications, and to facilitate appropriate compensatory and coping strategies.
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