Women and Parkinson’s: Closing the Gender Gap in Research and Care

When I first experienced PD symptoms, they were explained away as the stress of a working mom. I was prescribed medication for anxiety and the eventual diagnosis of Parkinson’s was not made for another two years. – Carol Clupny, MS, Women and Parkinson’s Advocate

Five years ago, a question was posed to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (now the Parkinson’s Foundation) by a woman with Parkinson’s Disease:  “Why are women with PD treated as little men?”  Most research did not include women, medications tested only on men were given to women in the same doses, symptoms varied, and more often than not, it took women much longer to be diagnosed and then treated for PD.  This one question led to the Women & PD Initiative hosted the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation in September 2013.  I was one of 25 women who attended and it changed my outlook on life with PD.

A year later, I was asked by Ronnie Todaro, MPH, Executive VP, Parkinson’s Foundation, to be part of the leadership team, along with Allison W. Willis, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Neurology and of Epidemiology University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and Megan Feeney, MPH, from the Parkinson’s Foundation, to explore these issues more deeply in order to identify what was needed for better care and treatment of women with Parkinson’s.   This nationwide study titled The Women and PD Teams to Advance Learning and Knowledge (Women and PD TALK)  was made possible through a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Award (3998-PDF).

A research and care agenda was derived from 10 regional forums, as well as a national forum, hosted across the United States, to understand the experiences of women with PD. This agenda reflects the priorities identified by women with PD, medical professionals and care teams at these forums. The purpose of this agenda is to promote research and care practices that enable women with Parkinson’s disease to maximize their quality of life.   I have included the 9 priority areas that have been identified below.  You can read the entire publication here.

Women and PD Research Needs

Research

  1. Inclusiveness: Parkinson’s cannot be fully understood without increased representation of women in PD research, the mechanisms, progression of and treatment response.
  2. Relevance: Parkinson’s research must examine the effects of biological sex — including sex hormones as they relate to PD risk, progression and response to treatments.
  3. Quality: Existing data should be pooled and analyzed for information about women with PD.

Care

  1. Accessibility: Parkinson’s care must be more accessible to women. Programs should target health, wellness and management of PD and should help women feel comfortable and included.
  2. Personalization: Parkinson’s care should be personalized to women. Biological and gender/cultural differences influence PD health outcomes and programs should be designed to address these differences.
  3. Communication: Medical professionals and women with PD should utilize shared decision-making tools to better communicate and work together to identify goals for treatment.

Education and Empowerment

  1. Self-management: Provide women with Parkinson’s with the knowledge and tools early in their diagnosis to maintain a desired quality of life.
  2. Shared Responsibility: Care teams should better understand the needs and priorities of women with PD, being more involved and not relying on the woman to understand all aspects of her disease.
  3. Advocacy: Additional education efforts are needed to increase public awareness about PD.

I personally want to thank everyone who attended our 10 Forums and the National Forum, along with Ronnie Todaro,  Dr. Allison Willis and Megan Feeney, who worked so hard with me to ensure the success of this project.   My hope is that with this agenda, we now have the tools to reach out to physicians, other health care professionals, family members and anyone else who helps to provide care and treatment of women with PD, so that we, as women with PD, will no longer be treated just as “Little Men”.

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