Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that is progressive, degenerative, and incurable. In people with the disease, the brain stops producing dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that brings messages from the brain to the body, telling it how and when to move. Common symptoms include tremors, slow movements (bradykinesia), dementia, rigidity, instability, a “blank” expression, and problems with handwriting and voice control.
My mom, Bonnie, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2001. I was studying abroad in England at the time, and while it certainly was disconcerting, it wasn't exactly a surprise. I had noticed nondescript symptoms for over a year- she was easily fatigued, her handwriting was getting hard to read, and it was taking longer to do routine tasks. Aside from getting assessments and care plans from a variety of neurologists and specialists, Mom got on a regular schedule of getting weekly acupuncture. Her Western doctors can't believe how well she is doing on such a small amount of medication- Parkinson's drugs are difficult because the body gets used to the dosages and they need to be increased, but there is only so high you can go. Many patients max out and need to seek out alternate treatments, such as Deep Brain Stimulation.
Mom has been very proactive in managing her disease. She joined a Parkinson’s dance group, and started a Parkinson’s singing group called the Croakers- voice projection is difficult for people with Parkinson’s and she laughs that sometimes she’s croaking, not singing. I participate in the group with her and it’s a lot of fun. Exercise is vital for people with Parkinson’s, and Mom does yoga and goes for walks regularly. She’s participated in Moving Day, the big fundraising and advocacy event for National Parkinson Foundation, for the past two years, and this year I helped her plan a benefit wine-tasting for the NPF, which brought in over $1000.
Neurologists have made great strides in treating Parkinson’s over the past 20 years, but there currently is no cure and they are not entirely sure what causes it. It affects people both physically and cognitively, and although they may be able to live quite a while with the disease, their quality of life can be greatly compromised, especially in late stages. There are over 1 million Americans living with the disease, and much of the burden falls on family caregivers. We need more awareness and more funding so that researches can continue to move forward and find a cure.
Click here to read an article I wrote about alternative treatments for Parkinson's disease, and here for a piece I did on chiropractic treatments for Parkinson's.