This was published several months ago but disappeared into cyberspace. Apparently Parkie hit a wrong key and it went somewhere else.
If you are the average person with Parkinson’s, it probably took you anywhere from 1-3 years to get the right diagnosis. And once you got the diagnosis, your doctor gave you a prescription to fill and a return appointment 3 months later. While you were in a state of shock from receiving the diagnosis, you were in no condition to question this. You went home and crawled into bed, trying to figure out what lies ahead for you.
As a patient advocate, I have met many other People with Parkinson’s (PwP’s) who have had this terrible experience at the time of their diagnosis, myself included. Yes, there is currently no cure for PD, but there are a lot of things that the person with PD can do to live well. The delayed diagnosis and lack of education are probably the biggest obstacles for us at the beginning. We may not be told to exercise. We may think that PD only happens to older men who are shuffling and stooped over. We do not know that there are many things that we can do to improve our situation, with medication, exercise, therapy and more. And we most likely do not know that there are a huge number of people who have been living with PD for years and are living active productive lives
One of my primary goals, and that of other patient advocates who I have spoken to, is to reach out to Primary Care Physicians and Neurologists to encourage them to do the following to ease the shock of the diagnosis:
1: Refer patients to a Movement Disorders Specialist (MDS) if there is one nearby. A movement disorder specialist is a neurologist who has received additional training in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and other movement disorders including dystonia, chorea, tics and tremors. They are more knowledgeable about the latest treatment options, the need for exercise and all things Parkinson’s.
2. If they cannot refer the patients to a MDS, have materials from the Parkinson’s Foundation, Michael J Fox Foundation, Davis Phinney Foundation, local support groups or organizations, and other resources available for the patients. PwP’s need to learn what they can do to help improve their quality of life early in order to cope with their diagnosis. This new, unwanted friend will be with them for the rest of their lives, so the sooner a person can take action, the better off they will be.
3. Schedule a follow-up appointment within a month and encourage the patient to bring someone with them to listen and to ask questions.
4. Connect the newly diagnosed person with Patient Mentor who can talk to him/her on a personal level about living with PD. Several organizations have Patient Ambassadors or Mentors who are comfortable in this role and are happy to help. I have met a number of newly diagnosed Parkies for coffee, and they are always surprised when they see me since I don’t fit the image that they had of someone with PD.
5. Most importantly, the doctor should tell them to start moving. Exercise has been shown to be the best medicine for PD. They should advise the PwP to start slowly if he/she has not been exercising, and increase the duration and intensity over time. A referral to a physical therapist trained to work with PwP’s is always a good first step to living well with PD.
NO ONE should be sent home with only a prescription and a return appointment 3 months later. Given the right information and instructions, the newly diagnosed Parkie will be much more prepared for a future with Parkinson’s.