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Learning about Parkinson’s disease and new ways to cope

National Parkinson’s Month

Parkinson’s disease is a complex disorder of the brain that involves the degeneration of nerve cells that produce a chemical called dopamine. With less dopamine production, people with Parkinson’s disease experience motor symptoms, or symptoms that relate to movement, such as tremors, slowness, stiffness, difficulty controlling smaller movements, posture changes and imbalance.

Since dopamine is important for other functions of the body, speech and voice, sleep, bowel motility, cognitive functions and mood may be affected. These types of symptoms are called “non-motor symptoms” and can be present along with motor symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease is often diagnosed by a neurologist who will perform an array of different tests such as physical examination and review of symptoms, medical history, medications and family history. Additional tests, such as a brain scan, may also be done.

Currently there is no cure, but there are many treatments and lifestyle modifications available to successfully manage Parkinson’s disease. A personalized and effective treatment plan, created by a dedicated multidisciplinary team of health care professionals include a combination of medications, exercise, rehabilitation, therapies, interventions to address safety and mental health and sometimes surgery.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, nearly 1 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, 10 million people worldwide. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year. Men are 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than women. Incidence of Parkinson’s disease increases with age, but an estimated four percent of people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed before age 50. Genetic predisposition, environmental factors and exposure to certain viruses are thought to be the cause.

Despite the physical challenges Parkinson’s disease presents, the emotional impact can be the most difficult to cope with. Here are some common challenges people with Parkinson’s disease face in terms of coping and what can be done to help improve the situation

1. What does independence mean to you?

Loss of independence and self-reliance can lead to vulnerability, guilt, sadness or feelings of being afraid. Reflect on what independence means to you and share those thoughts with your loved ones. Consider ways you can still maintain a sense of independence while also being uplifted through the support and assistance of those around you.

2. A disruption in lifestyle, routines

You may need to reconfigure and make adjustments to your everyday life. It’s important to continue to participate and enjoy meaningful activities. Find activities that bring both purpose and humor to your everyday life. Laughter can be the best medicine.

3. Role reversal and change in identity

Creating new roles for yourself can make all the difference. Maybe you are no longer able to work but volunteering gives you the same satisfaction. You may no longer be the “head chef” at home but now you’re helping with setting the table instead. Reflect on your identity. As things change, it is an opportunity to look at things in new ways. Set aside time to intentionally take stock of the things that you like about yourself, the things you have accomplished and how you’d like to see yourself moving forward.

Other things that can make a difference in your life is to be your own advocate, have patience and be kind to yourself. Join a support group for yourself and your family.

— Koehler is the director of Liberty Manor Adult Day Services. For more information, call 570-445-3803.

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