My article for this week's Herald and Post...
Tuesday 11th April marked World Parkinson’s Day. An important day in the calendar but also a poignant one when we consider the numbers now affected by this debilitating condition.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that worsens over time. In its simplest terms, Parkinson’s is caused by a lack of a chemical called dopamine that causes nerve cells in your brain to stop working. Dopamine affects movement, which is why people with Parkinson’s can find everyday activities challenging.
There are now more than 140,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK. Some people can live for years with mild symptoms that have a limited affect on their lives, whereas others suffer more extreme symptoms that can make basic functions, such as walking or fastening a button, difficult.
Whilst celebrities such as Michael J Fox and, more recently, Jeremy Paxman have shone a light on Parkinson’s, awareness of the disease is still mainly limited to those directly affected by it. It is often overshadowed by dementia or seen as a symptom of this disease, rather than a condition in its own right.
Despite the efforts of Parkinson’s UK, there is still no known cure, although progress continues to be made to better understand the condition and why it effects certain individuals. Current treatment ranges from daily medication to treat hand tremors, to exercise and physiotherapy to improve movement, muscle stiffness and mobility.
As with other chronic illnesses, research into treatment and a possible cure is the key. Parkinson’s UK has invested over £100 million to better understand the causes of Parkinson’s and how to improve quality of life for sufferers. And the government, via the National Institute for Health and Care Research, also funds projects, including over 175 clinical studies.
There are many myths around Parkinson’s, not least having to give up your driving licence or stop working as soon as you are diagnosed. This is simply not true. Many individuals continue to work, and drive, albeit with extra support. The DVLA provides guidance to all individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s to help them stay safe on the roads, but informing them as soon as possible is advised.
Government grants are available to help people with the disease live independently in their homes for as long as possible, for example by having grab rails or ramps installed. Or by changing their bathrooms into wet rooms to make them easier to use.
For those receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, there must be so many questions running through their minds, not least, why me? And what happens now? Having somebody to talk to in this situation, particularly somebody in the same situation must, I think, be of great comfort.
That’s why I was delighted to hear about the relaunch of the Petersfield Parkinson’s Café next week. Run by local volunteers from Parkinson’s UK, the café provides a safe, welcoming space for those affected by Parkinson’s, their family members, carers and friends.
So, if you’re worried about Parkinson’s, are newly diagnosed or know somebody with the symptoms, please pop along next week for a cup of tea and a chat with people who I’m sure will be able to answer your questions and, importantly, give you the comfort that you’re not alone.
The Petersfield Parkinson’s Café opens on Wednesday 26th April at 2.30pm at the Taro Centre, Penns Place. More information can be found at: www.parkinsons.org.uk