10 things that can help you cope with your new diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease

Many bloggers write about what you can do to cope with a new diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. We all have a different take on the issue, so if you have just been diagnosed, look for other blogs with similar titles. As they say in the Parkie world, we are like snowflakes, no two of us are alike. Each one of us has different symptoms and responds differently to medications and therapy. By reading several different blogs, you will get a broader perspective about your new companion, PD, which will be at your side for many years to come. So here are some of my suggestions for living well with Parkinson’s.

You have just been diagnosed. You walk out of the doctors office in a state of shock and the reality of it doesn’t sink in until after you get home. So many unanswered questions and your next appointment is 6 months or more away. What can you do?

Well, there are actually a lot of things that you can do before you see your doctor that will help you understand your new constant companion and to feel better about it. Before you do anything else, try to make a follow up appointment sooner if possible. Make sure that you bring someone with you who can help ask questions and take notes for you. Prepare a list of questions to take with you. We all forget to ask key questions if we don’t write them down. Click here for a worksheet from Health Monitor that you can use (scroll down the page to get to it).

Twitchy Woman’s 10 recommendations for the newly diagnosed:

1. Exercise. I can’t stress this enough. Exercise has been shown to be the most effective way to combat the effects of PD. If you are already exercising, good for you. See if you can increase your level of activity – the more you push yourself, the better the results. If you have not been exercising, start slowly. Walk around the block. Add distance and speed as it becomes more comfortable for you. Add different types of exercise to your routine. Varying what you do on a daily basis is good for your brain and your body. Most importantly, find what you enjoy doing. If you don’t like it, you won’t do it. My exercise routine is a combination of Boxing for PD, regular yoga classes, tennis and a Peloton bike.

2. Continue to do what you did before your diagnosis. PD may eventually slow you down, but for now, don’t let it stop you.

3. A good diet. Check Dr. Laurie Mischley’s website for recommendations for a Parkie diet.

4. Get out of the house. Loneliness is the #1 cause for a rapid decline with PD.

5. Find a mentor with PD. Ask your doctor if he/she can recommend someone living well with Parkinson’s who you can talk to. We have all been in your shoes and understand what you are going through. A mentor can answer your questions and be there for you when you need a friend.

6. Go to a support group. This may not be your thing, but try it anyway. There are a lot of different types of support groups out there and you may find new friends with PD who will become your support system.

7. Find a class for Parkies – boxing, dance, yoga, etc. The best way, in my opinion, to find your way through the maze of PD. The people you meet in these classes will become an important part of your support system. They know what you are going through. It also keeps you from being isolated (see #3) and gives you something to look forward to.

8. Go online and look for a few blogs and websites that you can trust and relate to. Beware of those trying to sell you a “cure”. Some good websites to start with are Michael J Fox Foundation, Parkinson’s Foundation and Davis Phinney Foundation. For a list of blogs I like, click on the Resources tab.

9. Read a good book about PD. Click on the My Books and Things I Like page (above) for recommendations. Two books I will recommend you start with are Parkinson’s? You’re kidding me, right? One woman’s unshakeable belief in overcoming a shaky diagnosis! by Sheryl Jedlinski andBrain Storms: The Race to Unlock the Mysteries of Parkinson’s Disease by Jon Palfreman. And order Every Victory Counts” from the Davis Phinney Foundation. It is free and a good resource.

10. Go to an educational program about PD. The 3 foundations above all sponsor educational programs, as well as The American Parkinson’s Disease Association and local Parkinson’s groups.

I hope that this will help. The most important thing for you to know is that you are not alone on your journey with PD. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me or to others with Parkinson’s Disease. We are there to help you.

Jennifer Parkinson Gives Parkinson’s Patients a Fighting Chance through Boxing

Our last name is Parkinson’s, isn’t that why you have it?

Jen’s 5 year old son

This was originally published as “Yes, Wonder Woman really exists and she looks like Jen Parkinson”

Wonder Woman really exists and she looks like Jen Parkinson.

Jennifer Parkinson, yes, that is her real name, is a role model for everyone with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease (YOPD) and for those of us who are older with PD.  Her story is inspiring,  She is tall, young, beautiful and athletic – Gal Gadot watch out!  And she is the perfect example of how to manage your life while living with Parkinson’s Disease.

We had a chance to meet on Friday morning before the Davis Phinney Foundation‘s Victory Summit in Pasadena, California, where she was scheduled to speak later that day about Women and Parkinson’s Disease.  We initially met almost 3 years ago at a conference sponsored by The Women & PD

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Sharon vs Jen

Initiative, which is a program of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (now the Parkinson’s Foundation).  Since I was taking boxing classes and Jen teaches boxing, we were asked to give a boxing demo to the other women who attended.  I am the short one in the photo!

On Friday, Jen looked great, no visible tremors or other signs of PD.   Listening to her story, it is hard to believe that this person sitting in front of me went through so much hardship with PD.  Diagnosed 13 years ago at 29, with symptoms that started soon after her son was born, life was not so good.  Jen had a difficult pregnancy, and 6 weeks after her son was born, she noticed a tremor in her right hand.   Even though she was trained as an RN, she never thought that it was PD.  When she went back to work, the shaking made it difficult to work with patients, her writing became illegible, her foot started to shake, making driving difficult, and then her blood pressure started dropping and her heart rate at times went from 30-180.  It was not long before she had to stop working.

“Here’s a prescription, I will see you in 6 months.  Oh, by the way, in 10 years you will be wheelchair bound and unable to take care of yourself or your kids.”

After 2 years of seeing numerous doctors in search of a diagnosis, a visit to an endocrinologist finally put her on the right path.  He sent her to a neurologist that she   worked with at the hospital, who finally diagnosed her with PD.  He put her on Amantadine to see if it would help and said to her:  “Here’s a prescription, I will see you in 6 months.  Oh, by the way, in 10 years you will be wheelchair bound and unable to take care of yourself or your kids.”  Not what she wanted to hear at age 32, with a 2 year old and 5 year old.  He gave her no information, no support groups, nothing about diet or exercise.

She stopped working, went on disability and then got divorced.  She was facing life as a single mother and her symptoms were getting worse, with freezing episodes 2-3 times a day.  She started using a rescue drug that was an injection, but could not administer it to herself since she was home alone.  She often had to wait out the freezing episodes.

That is when she heard about Rock Steady Boxing.  At the time it was only offered in Indiana, so she called a local boxing gym and started training there.  She was training in a regular class with the guys who were getting in the ring.  It was incredibly intense, especially since Jen was the type of person who signed up for the gym but never went until it was time to cancel the membership.  She felt immediate results from the boxing.  She felt good on the days she went to class, and terrible on the other days.

Jen eventually helped set up Rock Steady Boxing with a friend in Costa Mesa, a 2 hour drive from her house.  Soon after, a boxing gym opened up near her.  She went to a class which was taught by her now business partner, Josh.  They eventually opened up a Rock Steady Boxing, and went from 14 to 90 people in a short time.  But they soon realized that they needed more than just boxing classes.  It had become clear that a support resource for people with Parkinson’s and their families was needed, with other services besides boxing classes.  And they wanted to open it up to people with other neurologic diseases.  2 years ago, on September 12, 2016, Jen and Josh opened Neuroboxing.  Today they now have 5 locations and also train other trainers to teach neuroboxing.  All of this happened in 2 years.

I asked Jen how she feels.  There are times that are not great, but most of the time she is feeling good.  Her children don’t remember a time that she did not have Parkinson’s.  They remember when she could not get out of bed and when they used to have to help her.  When her son was 5, he once asked if he was going to have Parkinson’s too.  He said:  “our last name is Parkinson’s, isn’t that why you have it?”

When asked if she knew what caused her PD, Jen said that she was in a car accident several months before her symptoms started.  She started having some cognitive issues soon after.  Jen later discovered that 4 other nurses she had worked with at the same facility all have PD.   The nurses are wondering if there was something in the facility that  affected all of them.

Although I had to leave before Jen’s presentation later that afternoon, I heard that she was terrific, inspiring and a true role model.  Our Wonder Woman, Jen Parkinson continues to amaze.

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DC Comics Wonder Woman

 

Thank you to Medtronic, one of the sponsors of the Victory Summit, who arranged for me to meet with Jen at the Summit.  While Jennifer does not have DBS, it has been very beneficial to many other patients with Parkinson’s and Medtronic has a line of DBS systems.

 

How much time do you really spend going to doctors?

Experience says to make your appointment so you’re the first one on the schedule in the morning or the first after their lunch hour.

Tom Sheppard

Do you ever feel like all you do is go to doctor’s appointments?  Feel like a drug addict as you take meds all day long ?   Make sure you are getting your daily dose of exercise? Sometimes it seems that there is no time left in your days to do anything else.

The other day I read a blog post on the Davis Phinney Foundation website by Tom Sheppard about making the most of your visits to your doctor.  Tom does a wonderful job outlining 5 steps you can take maximize your 15 minutes with your doctor.   As I read his list of doctors appointments in one year, I started to think about how much time I spend on doctors appointments and self-care.  You can easily fill your days with unwanted tasks, all in the pursuit of living well with PD.

I knew I was seeing a lot of doctors, but when I actually looked at my calendar, I realized that I had more appointments than I thought I did. To sum up, in 2017 I saw

  1. 25 doctors
  2. 36 appointments
  3. 9 Physical Therapy appointments,
  4. 2 procedures
  5. 2 MRI’s,  and other miscellaneous appointments.

We also traveled a lot, for a total of 17 weeks.  Which means that I saw at least one doctor a week when I was home.  It seems a bit excessive, doesn’t it?

Self care also includes exercise, which is essential, averaging an hour a day.  In addition, we need to make sure that we have all of the  medications that we take throughout the day, keep up with our health insurance claims and more.  Record keeping is also an essential part of self care.  The bottom line it that we spend a lot of time managing our own care.  You must be an advocate for yourself to get the care you need.  If you don’t have someone to help you, it is easy to become overwhelmed.

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On a different topic, I don’t normally like to endorse products on my blog.  But after a friend fell and ended up in the emergency room and no one there was familiar with her PD meds, I both decided it was time to get a medical ID bracelet.  I found a great selection of fashionable ID bracelets on a website called Lauren’s Hope.  I get a lot of compliments on my new “bracelet”.   Check out their website by clicking on the photo here:

Medical ID Bracelet

Beer, Chocolate, Coffee and ????

 

 

Today I read an article posted by the   about the possible benefits of Beer for protecting the brain against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  We can now add that to the list of beneficial foods that include Chocolate, Coffee and more.  This presents a bit of a problem since beer on tap is a no-no if you are taking Parkinson’s meds.  Besides, how much beer do you need to drink for it to be effective?  According to the article you would have to drink 2000 liters a day!  But the researchers will spare you the burden of having to drink all of that beer.  They say that a flavonoid compound found in hops will help protect the brain.  So we can just pop another pill when they figure this out.  This is beginning to sound like Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper, where his character wakes up 200 years in the future only to find out that everything we thought was bad for us is now good for us.

From the movie, two doctors discussing Woody Allen’s character, Miles:

Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.”

Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or… hot fudge?

Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy… precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

Dr. Melik: Incredible.

So, if it is true that beer, chocolate and coffee can protect our brains, then why do people who partake in them develop Parkinson’s?  I wonder what other foods are being explored for their neuro-protective value.  I have been drinking coffee for years, and eating a lot of chocolate, too, but it doesn’t seem to have worked for me so far.   I think I need to do some more research.  Make mine a double espresso with chocolate, please.

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Seeking Self-Efficacy

“We can’t control that we have Parkinson’s, but we can control how we choose to live with it.” – Davis Phinney
A week after returning home from the Women & Parkinson’s Initiative conference, I am still on a high.  The most important thing we learned is how to be pro-active about how we let Parkinson’s control our lives.  We threw out the words “Perfect, Should and Normal” from our vocabularies.  We learned about the psychological effects of Parkinson’s and the benefits of exercise.  Most of the topics presented were familiar to me.  But the one thing I had not heard of before is “Self-Efficacy”.

Self-Efficacy was presented by Diane Cook, who was also one of the 25 women with PD selected for the conference.  Dr. Cook, who developed her own self-efficacy program based on the work of Dr. A Bandura, said that “Self-efficacy is the belief that one can achieve influence over the conditions that affect one’s life”.  When first diagnosed with Parkinson’s (or any chronic disorder), we have many challenges.  Psychological challenges can include shock, fear, anger,anxiety, depression and more.  We have physical challenges, such as tremor, falling and slowness, all of which can be made worse by stress.  We fear the stigma of PD when out in public and may withdraw and become isolated.    As a result, we try to hide our disease.

All of this was true for me.  My main symptom was a tremor.  I was constantly trying to hide it by putting my hand in a pocket, holding onto my purse straps or doing anything else that would make it less obvious.  I was afraid to tell people what was wrong.  As a community leader who often spoke in public I found it difficult for me to speak unless I was behind a podium, and even then I was sure people could see my tremor.  So I withdrew.  And became depressed.

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Dr. Cook’s Support System

Self-efficacy seeks to break that cycle by teaching us to change our behavior and take a greater sense of control.  We must become more pro-active about the healthcare we are receiving and develop a multi-faceted support network.  That network may include your Neurologist or MDS, a support group, physical therapist, a psychologist, masseuse, other doctors and especially your friends and family.  You need to find strength from within and increase your self-confidence with the help of your network.  Set goals for yourself and follow through.  Start with a series of small steps moving towards a positive outlook.  You can learn by observing others whom you see as successful role models living with the disease.  Seek positive reinforcement and encouragement from others.  This can be feedback from your peers or support group.  And listen to your body.

If you succeed, you can set higher goals.  A series of successes will give you more confidence and positive reinforcement. which in turn, will make you better able to manage the continual challenges of a chronic, progressive disease.

It took me almost 6 years from my diagnosis to become more open about having PD.  I took baby steps at first, encouraged by my MDS and my psychologist.  I learned to become more pro-active with my healthcare.  And sometime last year, it suddenly became OK to become more public with my diagnosis.  My confidence grew and I found that other people were seeking me out for help with coping with Parkinson’s, which eventually led to writing this blog to help others learn how to manage their disease.  Self-efficacy works.  Try it!

My apologies to Dr. Cook if I got any of this wrong.