Parkinson’s disease may sound familiar, but how much do you actually know about the conditions? Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disorder, meaning that it affects the brain and the nervous system, which is quite a lot of your body. It is a progressive condition, meaning that it gets worse over time, and results in reduced control over body movements, as well as more subtle functions. It may start with a slight hand or facial tremor and eventually become more prominent, with twitches, joint stiffness and slow movement becoming evident in later stages.
The disease develops when certain cells in the brain, called neuronal cells, start degenerating. This happens deep in the brain in an area called the substantia nigra. This damage causes a shortage in a chemical known as dopamine, a neurotransmitter that enables smooth, controlled movements. The changes take place over many, many years, and results in a loss of independence and a reliance on care that is usually devastating to the patient.
You can help to foster understanding and raise awareness in a number of ways.
Take to social media
The Shake It Up Australia Foundation is launching a Pause4Parkinson’s campaign that encourages everyone to stop, pause and focus on the disease over morning tea. You can register your business for a morning tea on Friday 10th April, or gather your family and friends on Saturday 11th April and together you can show your support by pooling donations. Of course, Pause4Parkinson’s is more enduring than just a couple of days’ worth of attention; use the hashtag #Pause4Parkinson’s on your social media pages and link to this article or any of the great resources available through the official organisations. The aim is to help people to understand what Parkinson’s disease is so that the tens of thousands of affected Australians can be better supported in the long term.
Wear purple for Parkinson’s
The official Wear Purple for Parkinson’s is on April 10th this year, but the great thing is that you’re not bund to a specific date – Parkinson’s Australia encourages you to fundraise in purple at any time of the year. Simply download a form and sign up for a gold coin donation day at your workplace, school, community group or club. It really is as simple as that.
Take it back to school
Does your child have a special grandparent or family friend who knows what Parkinson’s disease is like first-hand? Schools love special guests, especially ones who can enhance the childrens’ understanding of health, illness and why making lives better for others is such an important part of our community. Explain to your child’s teachers why Parkinson’s disease is a great topic for discussion and ripe for questions from the kids, and perhaps try to integrate a morning tea or a purple clothing day in order to enhance participation.
Donate some love
Australia is a nation of volunteers. As a society, we understand the importance of our time, and know that some work is simply a labour of love. Hospital and aged care volunteering is especially important, as people in their most vulnerable states can be greatly comforted by someone willing to share a cup of tea and a meaningful conversation. Parkinson’s patients often spend time in care facilities or rehabilitation centres as they strive to regain or strengthen some of their waning abilities. Patients outside of specialist care may have the most difficulty, as carers often have little training in the disease, meaning they struggle to understand the fluctuating abilities of the sufferer. A volunteer with a little knowledge in this area can provide enormous support, both physically and emotionally. No matter what your age or gender is, spend some time reading about the disease and find a hospital or care facility where your newfound knowledge can be put to good use.
Everyone can dance
It’s so unlikely that it would take a truly creative thinker to come up with it – dance classes for Parkinson’s patients. Now this phenomenon has spread from the US to the east coast of Australia after becoming a smashing success with sufferers of PD and their supporters alike. If you’re in Queensland, ACT, New South Wales or Victoria, there’s a Parkinson’s dance class in your state. Why dance? It’s a form of rehabilitation that encompasses joy, community, and a focus on ability rather than disability. All stages of Parkinson’s disease are catered for by specialist dance instructors, and the music and rhythms are timeless and suitable for older participants. If you know someone with Parkinson’s disease, take them along so they can feel connected in an entirely new way. If you’re in one of the states without a dance programme, why not get in contact with the rehabilitation therapists and dance companies in your area and facilitate a collaboration that will expand services to sufferers in every corner of our country?
The final word
It’s easy to feel passive in the face of chronic illness, but the truth is that there is usually something we can do to make a difference, even if it’s just a small one. Your health is often taken for granted until it is compromised, and sometimes a diagnosis such as Parkinson’s disease will suddenly turn your world upside down. Nothing prepares us for the emotional aspect of ill health, but there are practical ways to prepare – comparing private health insurance providers to cover you and your family is just one way of taking control of the future.
Top image source.