April 11 is World Parkinson’s Day, and April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. I’ve never before written about Parkinson’s disease. All the diseases I’ve written about are conditions that affect or have affected my family and/or myself. Among the illnesses that have had the greatest impact in my own life are fibromyalgia, with which I was diagnosed over fifty years ago in my twenties; stroke, which I experienced at age forty-five; and Alzheimer’s, which led me to be a caregiver for both my father and my husband.
So now why am I interested in Parkinson’s? My primary care doctor has diagnosed me with parkinsonism and has referred me to a neurologist for evaluation for Parkinson’s. I’m learning as much as I can and have been surprised at some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s. My father also had Parkinson’s, but he was so far into Alzheimer’s at the time of his diagnosis, the only thing we could identify as Parkinson’s was the tremor. That was mostly what I knew about the disease. Recently I’ve learned more as my neighbor across the hall in the senior living facility has Parkinson’s, and I observe his worsening symptoms.
A friend of mine started me on this journey. One day we were visiting, and she interrupted me to say, “You’re doing that pill-rolling thing.” She went on to say that the movement is a form of Parkinson’s tremor; she knew because her brother had Parkinson’s for fifteen years, and that had been his first symptom.
I talked to my doctor, and she said she wanted to observe me for a few months before making a diagnosis. I asked several of my friends if they had ever seen me doing that, and they said, “All the time.” After a couple of months, my doctor said it was getting worse and put me on Parkinson’s medication. As we discussed the symptoms of the disease, I realized that the myoclonic jerks that I have experienced for more than fifteen years may have been an early sign of Parkinson’s, which usually progresses very slowly. Other non-movement symptoms, such as sleep problems, drooling, and urinary problems, are also often present in Parkinson’s, perhaps long before movement difficulties begin.
On World Parkinson’s Day during Parkinson’s Awareness Month, take a few minutes to get more familiar with this challenging disorder. Here are some resources:
- The International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society
- The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- Parkinson’s Foundation
I hope you don’t ever need this information, but if you, a family member, or friend has a close encounter with Parkinson’s disease, I hope you have some knowledge about it.