By: Brian Elliott
April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month
Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) each year and it is estimated that in 2020 nearly one million people in the U.S. are living with PD. What is Parkinson’s disease? Parkinson's disease involves a decline in the function of the nervous system. Commonly found in aging adults, PD gradually impacts the control a person has over their physical movements and emotional responses. PD affects dopamine-producing neurons in the brain which send and receive signals from the body to the brain. This helps to explain why a person with PD may display delayed or uncontrolled reactions physically and/or emotionally. People are still able to go on living fulfilling lives as PD is not a terminal disease. Unfortunately, there is currently no single test or scan to provide a Parkinson diagnosis, it takes a series of factors for a doctor to consider.
Symptoms of PD slowly develop over time and can vary from one person to another. Parkinson.org lists these common symptoms as three strong indicators that can help with a diagnosis.
That last category, cognitive impairments, are possibly more impactful on people. They impact a person’s personality and mindset. Sometimes the biggest factor involved is a sense of self-esteem or ego. Like developing other disabilities, the personal struggle to recognize and accept the new body we are in and its physical/emotional changes is a monster of a hurdle in itself. Accepting on a personal basis that we can no longer do all the things like before is extremely difficult for some people as it is a recognition we aren’t able to be totally independent. An important step with successfully treating symptoms of PD is to work with a doctor and follow recommended therapies and medications.
- · Slowness of movements in automatic tasks like blinking or swinging arms while walking and initiating movement to rise from a chair,
- · Rigidity of the body beyond normal stiffness associated with arthritis or old age, and tremors while at rest and commonly occurring in the hand, lower lip, jaw, or leg.is the involuntary tremors while at rest, especially within the hands.
- · Cognitive impairments are more common, and show through signs of cognitive impairment, depression, sleep behavior disorders, boredom or being indifferent.
Parkinson’s Support Group
In recognition of Parkinson’s Awareness Month, I recently spoke with a long-time employee and recent retiree from disAbility Connections, Carole Briggs BSN, RN. Carole has a wealth of knowledge and experience with Parkinson’s disease (PD), gathered from her career as a nurse working in elder care facilities. Her husband was diagnosed with PD in 1993, and she has led the Jackson Parkinson’s Support Group for the past 20+ years.
Following her husband’s diagnosis, they helped start the Jackson Parkinson’s Support Group. Providing educational speakers and offering a social opportunity to be around others in similar situations living with PD. At these monthly meetings - currently not being held as a COVID precaution - they have programming that includes speakers from various medical fields, legal experts, holiday pot luck and auction to raise funds for the Parkinson’s Foundation, and two times a year have sessions that were designed for the Parkinson persons and caregiver(s) to meet separately. These two meetings being especially important, providing temporary relief and a break from each other while allowing an extra opportunity to communicate between those in similar situations. As Carole told me, "there is more to a PERSON as a whole than simply another person with a shared characteristic of being a caregiver or having PD and these meetings are a chance to share resources, have fun, and socialize”.
These meetings are a chance to share resources and one of the resources commonly used is respite service. Respite services provide a break of a few hours for the caregiver. This link provides information to learn more about our respite program offered to families in Jackson County.
As a parting comment for anyone that is newly diagnosed and their families; Carole says “Get connected with Michigan’s Parkinson’s Foundation www.parkinsonsmi.org (248) 433-1011, for all of their beneficial resources and get connected with a support group in your area. They are all over the state. The lessons learned at a support group, being among others in similar situations, will be beyond helpful”.
For a local Jackson Parkinson Support Group, contact Carole Briggs at 517-783-6527. In-person meetings are expected to start up again soon.