April 25, 2018
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Coping with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease

By Carol Higgins Taylor, Special to the BDN

We’ve all heard of Parkinson’s disease, but how much do we really know about it?

Almost one million people are living with Parkinson’s across the country. The disease affects movement and is chronic and progressive, which means it will get worse over time. While there is no cure, there are treatment options, including successful use of medications to handle symptoms of the disease, and in some rare cases, surgery.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation’s website, www.pdf.org, symptoms include tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; slowness of movement; rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; and postural instability or impaired balance and coordination. Sometimes Parkinson’s can cause, among other symptoms, pain, dementia and sleep disturbances.

“The worst day of this disease was the day I was diagnosed. The best day was when I understood that I could do something about it. It gave me back a sense of control in my life, and some power,” reported Phyllis, 63, on the website. That attitude will serve her well.

When a Parkinson’s diagnosis is made, patients often experience everything from shock, anger and despair to a feeling of relief that the symptoms they may have been living with for years finally have a reason and a name. It is important to seek medical attention when symptoms begin, because it is easy to explain them away as typical signs of getting older.

Once a proper diagnosis is made, the best treatment approach is a multidisciplinary team with support from a Parkinson’s specialist if possible, a physical therapist, speech therapist, nutritionist and social worker. There might be a need for psychiatry and neurosurgery as well.

Parkinson’s disease is not considered a death sentence but symptoms from the disease get worse with time and can make life very hard.

As Phyllis said, sometimes taking control is the best defense.

For information on Parkinson’s disease, call the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation helpline at 1-800-457-6676 or visit www.pdf.org.

Carol Higgins Taylor is the director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.

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