I’m sure just like me you know someone, a friend or a family member who has been affected by Parkinson’s and seen how life-changing it can be.
Parkinson’s is a progressive disease and often difficult to diagnose. I’m talking about it because as a physician and advocate, I want to clear up misinformation and give valuable advice to those who deal with this on a regular basis. Also, patients of mine who have Parkinson’s don’t always feel like they can live a full and rich life. So my goal is to inspire those with this disease so that they can lead a more fulfilled and meaningful life.
Most of us are thriving and looking forward to building our lives and careers in our twenties. My friend Jimmy was the same. However, that’s when he started to notice minor physical changes, but he brushed them off as normal aging. Jimmy soon met a wonderful woman and decided to get married. At that time, his dad gave him some fatherly advice and suggested he go and buy life insurance life. So that’s exactly what Jimmy did. During the life insurance exam, however, the nurse started asking him particular questions. She noticed things about Jimmy that he didn’t even think about. It just so happened that the nurse also worked in a neurologist’s office and she told Jimmy that he needed to see a doctor.
You might think that Parkinson’s is an older person’s disease, but it can affect younger people too. Jimmy was diagnosed at age 27. At first, he tried to ignore his diagnosis, but when he fell down a flight of stairs with this 10-month-old son in his arms, he knew it was a wake-up call. Jimmy says, “I think everybody has to have that rock bottom moment and that was for me. I realized then that I was becoming a danger to my kids and a burden to my family instead of helping my wife raise our family.’ Jimmy then completely turned his life around. He shares exactly how he did this, starting with walking one neighborhood block to build up strength and stamina. Over time he became stronger – he’s now run in over 15 marathons and over 100 half marathons! This man is a true #HealthHero and anyone who suffers from Parkinson’s will be truly inspired by him. You’ll also learn how exercise impacted his symptoms and overall health. He also shares a personal message that you’ll want to hear, which includes “Everybody is faced with some type of adversity. The idea is never to give up.”
Parkinson’s disease comes from the brain. It’s a specific group of nerve cells that are lost which cause all the symptoms like tremors at rest, slowness of movement, and gait problems. The feeling that someone is aging prematurely is sometimes a classic feature of it. And yet it can be very subtle. Someone who has Parkinson’s can feel like they’re slowing down, like they just don’t have much energy or they’re weak.
When it comes to age, Dr. Lewitt, a medical doctor and the Director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Program at the Henry Ford Hospital says the typical age Parkinson’s starts is 58. But he says, “There’s a large group of people in their 40s who have been misdiagnosed as having something else but turn out to have Parkinson’s.” Dr. Lewitt goes on to explain how tremors, balance or gait problems have a kinship with Parkinson’s but may not be Parkinson’s. He says it’s important to figure out why these symptoms are happening and what is causing them as the cures may be different. Dr. Lewitt is also the chairman of the Michigan Parkinson’s Foundation Professional Advisory Board. And he talks about how these types of organizations can be very helpful to patients with Parkinson’s.
It took about three years for Donna to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. That was over 10 years ago. Part of the problem was her young age when her symptoms first began. Donna tells me, “It started with the twitching of the thumb. And so when your thumb is twitching, you’re just like, “Oh, my thumb is twitching.” And then my shoulder started to droop and my gait changed, so my shoulder wasn’t able to swing when I was walking.” At first, the doctor thought she had a pinched nerve. But her symptoms kept changing, her leg began to drag and her toes started to curl. She found herself going from doctor to doctor before finally one neurologist ordered a DaTscan of her brain, which measures dopamine levels. Donna was told she didn’t have much dopamine on the left side of her brain.
Donna hasn’t let Parkinson’s stop her. She is very passionate about raising awareness and helping to find a cure. She holds an annual gala that donates 100% of the proceeds to research. Donna also shares why she’s very proud to participate in a landmark study, and has some advice for those who may struggle with this neurodegenerative disorder.
The Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, or PPMI for short, is taking place at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Fernandez, MD is the site’s principal investigator for the PPMI study and the director of the Center for Neurological Restoration at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Fernandez explains the importance of this study, and why a biomarker is crucial in helping to understand Parkinson’s. He says, “A biomarker is a specific test that tells us whether a disease or a disorder is getting better or getting worse.” Once that specific marker is identified, then therapies can be tracked better. And it accelerates the discovery of new treatments.
Dr. Fernandez also talks about deep brain stimulation which is a fascinating surgical therapy for Parkinson’s. He explains it this way, “We put a pacemaker in the area of the brain that’s misfiring for Parkinson’s disease. And so the result of that is a more regulated firing and it pretty much improves the tremor, the stiffness, the slowness. It’s one of the best treatments we’ve ever discovered in this century.”
Charles is a lead fitness and nutrition coach. He explains how he works with Parkinson’s patients when they have symptoms like tremors and what the main goal is for them. He says, “A lot of things we try and do is work on improving their posture, improving their mechanics. Things like helping to get rid of some of the functional problems that have begun, so their knees are stronger, their shoulders are stronger.” Charles also shares what he uses to help with rigidity, to try and loosen patients up.
Erica Hornthal is a clinical counselor and dance therapist. She shares how dance therapy is psychotherapy that integrates social, cognitive, physical, emotional, and even spiritual integration of an individual. She explains that dance therapy is very helpful, “A lot of my clients actually have never danced a day in their life, but they’re noticing that it’s joyful, it’s a way to reconnect. It re-patterns their brains and it keeps them sharp and it allows them to cope with the changes that this diagnosis brings.”