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Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

Parkinsons support group

Five years ago, Lois Abram was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Not knowing much about the disease, her sister, Pat Norman, found a Parkinson’s support group to hear from others and learn more. For six months, Pat and her sister drove to Marquette and attended monthly meetings. While the group was extremely beneficial, traveling in the winter was going to be an obstacle. Pat was not only concerned about travel but thought her community could benefit from a Parkinson’s support group. In the winter of 2017, the Parkinson’s support group began at HNJH, led by Pat. Currently, five families attend monthly meetings where they talk about their symptoms, share resources, and most importantly - support one another. 

Parkinson's Disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Certain nerve cells in the brain gradually break down or die. These nerve cells are responsible for producing the chemical dopamine. As dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity leading to impaired movement. 

Symptoms can start with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand and develop gradually over the years. The progression is often a bit different from one person to another. While there is a multitude of signs and symptoms for Parkinson’s, some include:

  • Tremor. A tremor, or shaking, usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers. You may rub your thumb and forefinger back and forth, known as a pill-rolling tremor. Your hand may tremble when it's at rest.

  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia). Over time, Parkinson's disease may slow your movement, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming. Your steps may become shorter when you walk. It may be difficult to get out of a chair. You may drag your feet as you try to walk.

  • Rigid muscles. Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can be painful and limit your range of motion.

  • Impaired posture and balance. Your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems as a result of Parkinson's disease.

  • Loss of automatic movements. You may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling, or swinging your arms when you walk.

  • Speech changes. You may speak softly, quickly, slur, or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than have the usual inflections.

  • Smell loss. You may experience a decreased ability to detect odors.

  • Writing changes. It may become hard to write, and your writing may appear small.

  • Sleep problems. You may suffer from insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep), restless legs syndrome (an uncomfortable sensation in the legs that goes away with moving them), or REM sleep behavior disorder (acting out dreams).

  • Low blood pressure. There is a decrease in blood pressure when changing positions, such as standing from sitting, which can cause lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting.

  • Memory or thinking problems. These vary widely and range from multitasking and concentration difficulties that don’t interfere with daily activities (mild cognitive impairment) to significant problems that impact a job and daily and social activities (dementia).

The cause of Parkinson’s remains largely unknown, and although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medications and surgery. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Helen Newberry Joy Hospital hosts a monthly support group meeting the last Monday of each month in the Huron Conference Room from 1PM-2PM. To register, or for more information, please contact Pat Norman at 906.291.5021.