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April is Parkinson’s awareness month

BRISTOL — April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Like most people, those words would mean little to me prior to 2010, the year I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I had heard of Parkinson’s but paid little attention to it. I suppose that is the way we are with most things until it affects us or those we love.
I had heard that Pope John Paul, Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox had Parkinson’s and may have briefly wondered how it impacted them. Their very open, public struggles greatly raised awareness of Parkinson’s and encouraged others with Parkinson’s to not go into hiding. More recently, the tragic suicide of Robin Williams and the news that he was attempting to cope with Parkinson’s again raised the disease to the public consciousness. I suppose receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s suddenly makes you very interested in the disease.
A little more than a million American’s have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. This includes several thousand Vermonters and roughly a hundred or so Addison County residents. Accurate statistics are difficult to find. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder that currently has no cure. At the present time, much research is being done and progress is clearly evident. Living with Parkinson’s is, I am sure, much more tolerable today then it was 30 to 50 years ago when little research had been done and medications did not exist that make the disease tolerable through much of its progression. We have people like Michael J. Fox and others who have raised millions of dollars to advocate and contribute to research to make living with Parkinson’s more possible.
Parkinson’s has four main symptoms:
• Tremor. Usually begins in a limb, often a hand or finger. Parkinson’s tremors are “resting tremors,” meaning the more relaxed, the more the tremor.
• Slowed movement (bradykinesia). Over time, Parkinson’s disease may reduce your ability to move, and/or slow your movement substantially.
• Rigid muscles. Extreme muscle stiffness may occur in any part of the body. Muscle stiffness limits range of motion and causes pain.
• Impaired posture and balance. Your posture often becomes stooped with a resulting loss of balance.
Secondary symptoms include depression, significant change in speech and writing,  and the loss of automatic movements, such as blinking, smiling or swinging arms.
Now for the good news: Parkinson’s is progressive but so is the human spirit. Living with Parkinson’s effectively requires daily exercise and medication as well as many other approaches one may take. Parkinson’s recognizes us as individuals and each individual will receive their symptoms differently.
Unlike many who have dealt with Parkinson’s in the past we are fortunate to have tools and supports they did not have. Neurologists today and the medical community know much more than they did previously about the disease. We know that a daily regimen of exercise and the right medication can slow its progress. We have groups like the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the National Parkinson’s Association advocating for research and services.
In Vermont we have the Vermont Parkinson’s Association attempting to do the same for Vermont residents with Parkinson’s. In Addison County we have a monthly support group, where we meet to support each other and to learn all we can as we cope with the symptoms. This group also includes caretakers and loved ones who are supporting those with Parkinson’s. We meet the last Thursday of every month from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at The Residence at Otter Creek in Middlebury and you are welcome to join us.
On May 21, the Vermont Parkinson’s Association sponsors a walkathon to raise money in support of research to treat and prevent Parkinson’s. The Walkathon is held in Stowe, on the bike path. Please consider supporting this cause by donating and or walking with us. There is information on their website at parkinsonsvt.org.
A diagnosis of Parkinson’s can be devastating. Most of us also recognize the positives. We recognize we are not alone and that there are many other diagnoses one might receive than can be more devastating. I personally am also grateful for what I have learned from others who are coping with Parkinson’s and their families. I’m grateful for their examples and their lessons, their grace and humor. I’m grateful for the support of friends and family and recognize what research tells us, that having this support is its own kind of medicine.
If you would like more information on Parkinson’s Awareness Month and how you might participate, please feel free to contact me. If you would like to participate in the support group or want more information about the Parkinson’s support group please call me, Mike Gray, at 453-5148, or email me at grayland@gmavt.net.
Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Mike Gray of Lincoln.

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