A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is not the end of a person’s life, but rather another stage in it.
Parkinson’s disease is an incurable degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system. It causes tremors, shaking and rigidity that make it gradually more difficult to walk or perform other activities. It can eventually lead to cognitive problems including dementia as it progresses.
The disease is almost always diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and is believed to be caused by a decreasing number of cells that produce dopamine in the brain. It occurs in about one person in every 500.
Like any other physical or mental disease, it can be managed by those who have it with help from their doctors and those around them. People with the disease can and do lead rewarding and fulfilling lives, including continuing in their professions or trades.
The cornerstone of treatment after the disease has been diagnosed are drugs, which replace the dopamine that the body is no longer producing.
But drugs alone are not enough. Regular exercise is critical to minimize the stiffness, muscle weakening and balance problems that come with the disease. It does not have to be an exhausting Olympic-level workout, but a plan worked out in consultation with a person’s medical team that includes stretching, lifting light weights and cardio, such as walking, for circulation.
Eating well is also vital because the disease weakens bones and increases the chance of bone fractures and breaks if a person falls. Medical professionals recommend a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, with lots of water and moderation when it comes to sugar and alcohol.
Eating and exercise also help with sleep. Many Parkinson’s sufferers report difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep through the night. While a doctor can prescribe a sleep aid, sleeping too little or too much – along with feeling isolated, loss of pleasure in daily life or difficulty bathing, cooking or performing the other small chores of daily life – may also be signs of depression, which is more common in people battling the disease than in the general population.
Those who have been dealing with the effects of Parkinson’s, in some cases for decades, stress that people must keep a positive attitude and think of themselves as someone living with a disease, not dying of one. Even as the disease progresses, people can still take part in the activities they have enjoyed all their lives – gardening, travel, music, cooking and spending time with family and friends.
Most towns and cities also have support groups for those living with the disease, along with their partners, families or loved ones. The groups typically provide information on services and resources for Parkinson’s disease in the community, home care and respite for caregivers where available and special activities, trips and events.
Most importantly, such groups gather together people who are dealing with the disease in all its stages who talk about their struggles and victories over it and they help form social bonds and friendship among people exploring this latest stage of their lives.