Dr. Norman Swan: Most of us take shopping, a walk in the park, doing household chores, and even brushing our teeth for granted. But, for more than 110,000 Australians living with Parkinson’s disease, these simple daily activities can be beyond their reach.
The average age of diagnosis is 65, and the prevalence increases threefold as we get older. But, it can affect younger people too, with 20% of people living with Parkinson’s disease of working age.
There is no known cause or cure for Parkinson’s disease, but what we do know is that the symptoms relate to a decline in the production of a chemical in the brain called dopamine.
Dopamine is an important chemical messenger or neurotransmitter that allows messages to be passed between the nerve cells in the brain. Without dopamine, normal body movements are very difficult.
Vincent Carroll, Parkinson’s Nurse Consultant: People can present with a tremor or rigidity, loss of movement, and balance problems. But, also there’s a lot of non-motor symptoms that precede the diagnosis, and that can be around anxiety, depression, constipation, sleep disturbances, and loss of smell to name a few. And, these can be quite disabling to a person with Parkinson’s disease.
Kathryn C.: When I look back, it was back when I was in my late 30s, but I was diagnosed on the 4th of April, 2001 when I was 48. So, I’ve had it for 17 years, diagnosed. First thing I noticed, the sense of smell went. Then, my handwriting went really small. I got very fatigued, depressed. It stops you for doing lots of things.
People would say to me, “Are you happy?” I’d go, “Yeah.” “Well, smile.” And I’d think, “I am smiling.” But, I wasn’t. You get a masked look on your face.
I can’t smell roses, the sea, a newborn baby, those pleasant things. But, also I can’t smell gas, cooking … You could burn stuff. You can’t smell it. It’s dangerous. People don’t realise it. It’s that you say you lost your sense of smell. They think, “Oh, well that’s just smell.” But, it’s very dangerous too.
Vincent Carroll: The gold standard treatment still remains levodopa, so Parkinson’s medications. It’s over 50 years old, the gold standard treatment. And, that replaces the dopamine that a person doesn’t have.
But, there’s certainly other benefits through complementary therapies. If we could hand out a script pad, and write exercise on it from all the doctors, that’d be great, because it certainly benefits a person’s quality of life, improves physical fitness, reduces the need for medication, makes a person feel better, their mood improves. And, so certainly exercise is right up there. And, then there’s massage, tai chi, a whole range of complementary therapies that do help.
Kathryn C.: I usually go to a gym three times a week to try and keep my muscle tone. I’m on medication, take up to five times a day. And, I just try to keep active.
You have your on and off periods too, and exercise is the best thing you can do. Weight bearing for the muscle tone, and walking. I love swimming, but you can do any ex … Even dancing’s good for Parkinson’s, because that’s good for your coordination, and it keeps you … Sometimes my head knows what I want to do, but my feet won’t move. So, any exercise is good for …
Vincent Carroll: There’s no known cause, and there’s no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there’s certainly a lot of research going on.
Kathryn C.: Just everyday things people take for granted, we can’t do. Sometimes when you’re out, and you might be shaking, and you take a sidestep instead of going straight, they look at you as if you’re drunk. They don’t know you, but the looks you get, and that can be disturbing.
Stay in my own home as long as I can. Get help in, like a housekeeper, someone to take me shopping. Still keep up with exercise as long as I can. I don’t think of the future. I live for day by day.
Dr. Norman Swan: Make Parkinson’s a priority, and support people living with the disease.
Vincent Carroll: So, lets get together, raise the awareness, and move forward with Parkinson’s awareness.
Kathryn C.: Because the more are aware of it, the more support we’ll get to help us.