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Dealing with misconceptions surrounding Parkinson's Disease

Thursday March 25, 2010

STEPHEN UHLER

The Daily Observer - With awareness comes understanding.

This is the hope of those who are coping with Parkinson's Disease, a disorder of the brain which produces a wide variety of symptoms, the most common being trembling.

But that isn't the only symptom, nor the only effect the neurodegenerative condition has on people and their families, said Joanna Chisnell.

Marianhill's community services manager is also the facilitator of the local Parkinson's Support Group, which meets at the Marguerite Centre in Pembroke every third Tuesday of the month.

"We really want to make people more aware of Parkinson's, and to know our group exists to help," she said. "Plus there are a lot of stereotypes associated with it we'd like to dispel."

April is Parkinson Awareness Month, and the local support group is working on ways in which to increase its profile. Currently between 10 to 12 people attend their meetings regularly, Ms. Chisnell said.

She said they hope to determine a way to raise funds plus awareness of their group during April. Plans include setting up a booth somewhere, perhaps at a mall.

Parkinson's Disease is a chronic condition in which the supply of dopamine, a chemical which allows the nerves within the brain to communicate with each other, is disrupted, as the cells which create it die off.

Exact numbers are hard to narrow down, due to the complexity of the illness, but it is believed around 100,000 Canadians are affected by it, and perhaps 8,000 within Eastern Ontario, including Renfrew County.

Ms. Chisnell said the disease is hard to diagnose, as its array of symptoms could be applied to any number of ailments. Sometimes, medications taken to treat Parkinson's can cause or exacerbate symptoms as well, and so sufferers need to have their medications adjusted as the disease develops over time.

Besides the trembling which is the first thing people associate with Parkinson's, the disease manifests itself in many other symptoms including muscle stiffness or rigidity, slowness of movement, impaired balance, reduced facial expressions resulting in a waxen or stony-faced appearance, the loss of the ability to speak loudly or above a whisper, stooped posture, and muscle pain.