April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, and there are more and more events and activities coming to the area to spread the word and support those who live with the disease.
Pat Evans was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2006 and is an advocate dedicated to spreading awareness. She says that, over the past few months, Parkinson Canada has started to invest in bringing programs to rural areas to help those who are living with Parkinson’s to stay engaged without having to travel to cities like Ottawa and Brockville. Last year, she helped organize the first Parkinson SuperWalk in Perth, which raised over $30,000 for Parkinson’s research and advocacy.
In January, a new Parkinson’s support group, facilitated by Pat, started in Smiths Falls, which allows people with Parkinson’s to share their experiences and get information and support. The group runs once a month and supplements other groups out of Perth, Almonte, Kemptville and Brockville. “Thirty-one people showed up to the first group,” Pat says. “That shows there is a need.”
What surprised Pat most about the group was how little information they had about Parkinson’s, even though many had been diagnosed for a while. “People don’t think there is anything they can do,” she says.
That is far from the case. Research is showing that exercise can be integral in slowing down the progression of the disease. Dan Linton, a Smiths Falls resident who first started having Parkinson’s symptoms at 35, says that exercise has played an important part in keeping his symptoms at bay. “It was only when I first started exercising, that I began to have a sense that I could have a good quality of life with this disease,” he says. “It is really why I am doing as well as I am.”
Dan is encouraged by the growing number of programs available for people with Parkinson’s in his area, specifically those that have to do with exercise. In mid-April, a new Parkinson’s- specific exercise program, funded by CPHC, will be offered at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Smiths Falls. This will add to the growing number of exercise programs offered in Lanark North Leeds which could benefit those living with Parkinson’s. This includes water walking classes, dancing, boxing, “Gentlefit” and Tai Chi.
Another important aspect of the treatment of Parkinson’s is early diagnosis. Many people live for years without being diagnosed and therefore don’t get the treatment they need for the symptoms. “It is a very common story of someone experiencing symptoms, but not wanting to talk about it,” Pat says. There is not enough understanding or awareness of the disease in the medical community. “If it is not diagnosed and treated, it will end up costing the government more money.”
To help with this, Parkinson Canada has organized an educational event set for Thursday, April 26, from 10:00 am-1:30 pm in Smiths Falls, with the goal of educating healthcare professionals about signs and symptoms of the disease and evidence-based treatment. The event will be held at the Smiths Falls Hospital, but will be broadcast live to Perth, Lanark, Westport, Portland, Almonte, Carleton Place, Brockville, and Arnprior. Movement disorder specialist, Dr. Michael Schlossmacher, will be leading the conversation, with the help of two neurologic physiotherapists, a social worker, and Pat Evans, who will be speaking as a person living with the disease. “Getting doctors to diagnose is a priority,” she says. “There are so many benefits of early diagnosis.”
More than 25 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s every day in Canada, with even more flying under the radar. Michael J. Fox, who lives with Parkinson’s and is the disease’s most famous advocate, has called it a Parkinson’s pandemic. “I call it a Tsunami,” Pat says. While she is pleased with the progress that has been made over the past few months, she wants to see even more evidence-based programs being offered in rural areas. She encourages anyone who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s to reach out and avoid becoming isolated. “Support groups are like family who understand,” she says. “It’s amazing what people with Parkinson’s are doing.”
For more information on any of the programs mentioned above, contact Margaux Wolfe at [email protected], or call 1-800-565-3000 ext. 3425.