Parkinson’s disease affects about one person in a hundred over age sixty. A National Institutes of Health website reports that the disease is caused by a loss of dopamine-producing brain cells, and is chronic and progressive. It has four primary symptoms: tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination. Other symptoms may include difficulty swallowing, speaking or chewing; constipation or urinary problems; sleep disruptions, and depression or other emotional changes.
John Peterson of Janesville, Minnesota, caught his symptoms early. ‘I usually walked two to four miles a day, and began noticing that my left arm wasn’t swinging as much as the right,’ said 73-year-old Peterson in a telephone interview. ‘I’ve had the disease for five years now and am not in the severe stages, and I might not even live long enough to get into those stages.’
A nursing home board of directors chairman, and former Internal Revenue Service employee, Peterson, after being diagnosed by a neurologist, immediately began learning about the disease on the Internet. He soon found out the disease was progressive, meaning symptoms worsened over time, and there was no cure.
Prior to diagnosis, he had known one other person with Parkinson’s disease, someone who had developed it over a forty-year period and had dyskinesia, an inability to control muscle movement.
He said, ‘(After being diagnosed) I knew there was no cure and had better learn to deal with it best I could and accept it. My wife handled the news about the same way, and didn’t react negatively. She is supportive.’
Peterson calls himself an independent person, likes handling problems alone, and usually will ask for help only as a last resort. He acknowledges that attending a support group could be emotionally helpful for some people with Parkinson’s disease, and could provide a forum for people trading information to better cope, but such a group isn’t for himat least, yet.
His symptoms have worsened over the last five years. ‘Since being diagnosed, the tremors have increased,’ he said. ‘My walking isn’t what it used to be, and my balance is off somewhat. It would be easy for me to fall, but I haven’t.’ Peterson still walks outside when weather permits.
As for advice, he said, ‘I would tell people not to become depressed (upon being diagnosed), accept the disease, work with a neurologist, take your medication, and exercise.’