April draws attention to Parkinson’s disease

Published 9:15 am Friday, April 19, 2013

Column: Guest Column, by Maureen Ruble

April is designated Parkinson’s Awareness Month.

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder associated with a loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells deep in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that helps regulate the body’s movement. Essentially, less dopamine leads to less mobility and less control over one’s movements. Current treatments for Parkinson’s replace or enhance the dopamine lost when nerve cells degenerate.

Maureen Ruble

Maureen Ruble

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Parkinson’s is both a chronic and progressive disease. In fact, tremors begin in most people only after some 80 percent of certain dopamine-producing nerve cells have degenerated. However, it’s important to note that each person’s experience and time frame with Parkinson’s can vary widely.

Some of the motor symptoms used in diagnosis are:

• Rest tremor. This is a rhythmic shaking in the arms, legs or chin. This tremor is typically worse when you are relaxing and resting your arm or leg.

• Bradykinesia, or slowness in movement.

• Rigidity or stiffness in the arms or legs.

• Walking problems such as stooped posture.

• Decreased arm swing and shuffling steps.

• Balance problems, typically experienced in the later stages of the disease.

• Masking or losing facial expression.

While motor symptoms are the most common in Parkinson’s disease and are used for diagnosis, the non-motor symptoms dominate the Parkinson’s patient life and may also be missed in the doctor’s visit. These include fatigue, depression, sleep disturbances, constipation, bladder and other autonomic disturbances (sexual, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular) and sensory complaints, such as pain. There are also other common complaints and vary with each Parkinson patient.

Many patients experience shoulder, leg or back pain prior to the onset of motor symptoms of the disease. Often diagnosed as arthritis. Another cause of pain in Parkinson’s disease patients is leg cramps.

A very early symptom is hyposmia, or losing the ability to smell and detect odors.

Urinary urgency is one of the most common symptoms in PD. Another is gastrointestinal problems. Gastric dysmotility with delayed emptying affects digestion. Symptoms of bloating, reflux and indigestion are some of the resulting symptoms. One of the most common complaints among PD patients is constipation.

Another problem is increased salivation and drooling in PD patients. This is a very frustrating problem. Chewing on candy or gum is an easy way to overcome drooling and excessive salivations.

If this is not effective, there are some medications that can be helpful. Sleep problems affect most patients with Parkinson’s disease. Again, the patient needs to work with his doctor to attempt to combat this problem.

REM sleep behavior disorder is the loss of normal REM sleep, which manifests as dream reenactment. The patients may scream, yell, kick or thrash in their sleep, with no recollection the following morning. There are medications which work very well to control this behavior.

There are so many more symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness, depression, anxiety, lack of motivation, cognitive problems, hallucinations and more.

(Some information from Minnesota Messenger and neurologist Okeanis Vaou.)

The Southern Minnesota Parkinson Disease Support Group has brought many programs into our area covering many of the above symptoms. Living “outstate” as we do, it is difficult or impossible for many people to participate in the many programs offered in the Twin Cities area. We have been very fortunate to bring these programs into our community. There are many programs available to people if you are able to go to the Twin Cities area, too many to list here, but we are happy to assist all those with whatever information would be helpful.

The second annual Walk for Parkinson’s is being held May 18 at the Northbridge Mall and is sponsored by the Southern Minnesota Parkinson Disease Support Group and American Parkinson Disease Association. It will be from 9 to 11:30 a.m., at which time prizes will be awarded. We urge groups, families, church groups and friends to organize teams or walk individually. Our purpose is to raise money for education, research and support to “Ease the Burden, to Find the Cure” for the devastating disease of Parkinson’s. There will be a silent auction, prizes, snacks and beverages and a fun time to meet neighbors and friends and to show support to the many victims of Parkinson’s.

The local Southern Minnesota Parkinson Disease Support Group meets monthly, the fourth Tuesday of each month at 9:30 a.m. in the Albert Lea Senior Center in the Skyline Plaza. For more information call me at 507-373-1808 or Anne Troska at 507-874-3367.

For people who would like to financially support this fundraising effort, checks can be made to: American Parkinson Disease Association or National Parkinson Foundation Minnesota or Southern Minnesota Parkinson Disease Support Group. Checks may be sent to: David Hernes, 20089 767 Ave., Albert Lea, MN 56007.


Rural Albert Lea resident Maureen Ruble is a co-facilitator with the Southern Minnesota Parkinson Disease Support Group.