By JUSTIN FORD
April 11 was World Parkinson Day, and April also marks Parkinson Awareness Month. It’s a time when 100,000 Canadians and six million people worldwide affected by the disease simply ask for our attention.
“My handwriting was getting smaller, and because it took a year for a clinical diagnosis, I was already thinking that it could be Parkinson’s,” said 61-year-old Kitchener natve and Conestoga College graduate, Dee Brown. “I wasn’t so surprised with the diagnosis, but when you hear it coming from your doctor – I went into denial a little bit.”
Parkinson’s disease (PD) occurs when dopamine-generating cells in the brain die, but why this happens is unknown. In the early stages, the symptoms are usually movement-related. Those affected are usually prone to shaking, slowness of movement and have difficulty walking. The disease is much more common in the later stages of life, with the majority of cases occurring in people over the age of 50. Still, there are the rare occasions of early-onset Parkinson’s disease.
“Life changed dramatically for me. I had been driving my car, and that got to be too much,” Brown said. “The car turned into a bicycle, then I couldn’t pedal or balance, and the bike turned into an electric bike. Then, that changed (to being in a wheelchair).”
This April marks the 50th anniversary of Parkinson Awareness Month. Christopher Haddlesey, communications co-ordinator for Parkinson Society Ontario, encourages people to spread the word about PD in any way they can.
“You could join in on Cut-A-Thon, or simply make a post on Facebook, or send out a tweet about how important this month (#ParkinsonAwarenessMonth) is,” Haddlesey said. “Really, it’s as simple as telling as many people as you can. The more people who know, the more support Parkinson’s gets.”
Ten people are diagnosed with PD every single day, and the number of people living with the disease in Canada is expected to double by 2031. PD also has the third highest direct cost of neurological conditions annually, with a worldwide financial accumulation of just over $120 million.
“The impact on individuals and families can be overwhelming,” Joyce Gordon, president and chief executive officer of Parkinson Society Canada, said in a press release.
As PD progresses and begins to firmly take hold of its victim, dopaminergic neurons continuously die and the drugs used to treat it eventually become increasingly ineffective. Rehabilitation and certain diets have been proven to combat PD in some cases, but every person is different and there is no specific course of action that is guaranteed to improve a person’s condition.
“When your world gets smaller on the outside, I turned inside and I started meditating,” Brown said. “It helps you put things into perspective and you learn to not take things for granted. It’s not terminal, it’s just debilitating.”
Brown said she was weary of trying the suggested medication at first, and it took a lot of soul searching and trial and error for her to come to a conclusion of what worked for her. She was diagnosed with PD in 2003, and a combination of positive thinking, meditation and medication ultimately led her to be well enough to obtain her driver’s licence again in 2011.
“I do have my licence back – I’m driving my car,” Brown said. “I share my story, to go inward and not take things for granted.”
Brown stressed that there is a tremendous amount of help out there for people living with PD. The simple act of letting go of pride and attending a support group is something that can go a long way for someone dealing with the mental aspect of the disease. It’s about starting a dialogue, and during Parkinson Awareness Month, Brown wants the community to open up those channels of communication.
“I think that the best thing that we can do is just to encourage communication, (and) if you have time and money or energy to donate, be active in that,” Brown said.
If you’d like to donate or help in any way, visit www.parkinson.ca.