A Message to Persons Newly Diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease

You are probably reading this because you may have recently been told that you (or a loved one) have Parkinson’s Disease (PD). This may or may not have come as a shock to you. You may have waited for several months to get an appointment and during that time have been searching the internet for information. Much of what you found probably seemed scary to you. You are wondering what the future holds. Will you end up in a wheelchair? Should you hurry up and make funeral arrangements?

What you really need to do now is to relax. Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive disease and people live approximately a normal lifespan. You do not need to make any major decisions right now concerning which treatments you should start. You should take some time to better understand the disease. You should be certain that you are correctly diagnosed. You should consider certain lifestyle changes which may benefit you for the long term. You should consider the treatment choices available to you in a deliberate fashion. But you should not panic.

There is a tendency to think of “life before PD” and “life after PD”. This is a fallacy. You have already had Parkinson’s disease for possibly 10 years. That’s right. The changes in your brain cells that cause the disease began several years ago. You did not notice it. Maybe you noticed a few things over the years but did not pay much attention to them. There are several “pre-motor” symptoms which may occur prior to being diagnosed. These may include impaired smell, constipation, depression and certain sleep problems. Perhaps last year when you were really anxious about something, you noticed this weird tremor of your hand for a few minutes. Maybe you have felt stiffness in your shoulder (could be arthritis though). Regardless of whether there were subtle symptoms in the past or not, the disease process has been going on for several years.

Our lives change continuously from the day we are born. As we get into middle age, we all slow down a bit. We can’t really compete with 20 year-olds in basketball anymore and probably sprain our ankles more when trying to (it has happened to me!). We adapt to these changes by choosing activities we are able to do. We recognize that it might be risky to try some athletic feats we had done 20 years previously. But, we do adapt and most of us are able to lead full and active lives. We make lifestyle choices to allow us to do these things. We try to eat healthy and exercise regularly. But life is busy, and these things are not always priorities.

For you, who is diagnosed with a chronic progressive neurological disease, it is more important to make the right choices. Think of your brain having to control how your body moves to do your daily activities. It is much easier mathematically for the brain to control a body that is in good shape, well-toned and strong, than a more debilitated body. The brain does math. The signals the brain sends to your muscles must take into account how tall you are, how much you weigh and how strong you are. The evidence is all there. People with PD who exercise regularly, maintain a healthy lifestyle and do not take unnecessary risks, are the ones who increase the likelihood of living a full and active life.

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