I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (PD) in September 2009 at age 80. I'm sure I would have been diagnosed earlier if I'd had the tremors that usually accompany Parkinson's. But I didn't then and still don't now, over three years later.
My early warning signs were a loss of the sense of smell three or four years prior to my diagnosis. Then a couple of years later family members pointed out that my right arm wasn't swinging much when I walked, another early sign of Parkinson's. Finally I began having lots of problems with my balance. This led me to get checked out by a neurologist with the resultant PD diagnosis.
Since balance was my main issue, my neurologist recommended I take the BIG exercise program designed specifically for people with Parkinson's. He wrote a prescription (the needed passport for getting my sessions covered by Medicare) for the Georgetown Hospital's program.
This program was designed by the same organization -- Lee Silverman Voice Treatment -- that developed the LOUD speech therapy program to address another major Parkinson's symptom -- soft voice, monotone, imprecise articulation. (More about this later.).
The BIG program at Georgetown Hospital required a commitment of four weeks of one-hour training sessions twice a week. The program focuses on seven daily exercises, each done to a count of ten and repeated five times. The exercises are done with exaggerated movements to counteract the tendency of those of us with Parkinson's to walk in a slow shuffle with our arms hanging motionless. To counteract this, Lisa, my BIG therapist, encouraged me to take big steps and swing my arms and upper body forcefully.
The program also incorporates some of the ideas of the LOUD program by instructing you to shout out your exercise count in a loud voice. Lisa also worked with me on some of my special issues, such as how to get up from my crouched position while gardening and how to change direction without losing my balance.
Here's a video that shows how some of the exercises are done. (I can't help but wonder in watching this if Sweden's national health insurance pays for this guy spending four weeks in a mountain ski resort while Medicare only covers my showing up at Georgetown Hospital twice a week.)
Parkinson’s can cause slowing of movement and feelings of muscle stiffness in the hands and fingers. Loss of automatic motion also affects the easy, flowing motion of handwriting.
My handwriting was barely legible, even to me, before this latest development. Fortunately, virtually all of my writing is done on the computer these days. And the credit card machines that require my signature at checkouts counters are satisfied with whatever scratchings I make.
Here 's some tips from the Parkinson's Foundation for dealing with this:
- Make a deliberate effort to form each letter. This can be hard to do at first, but is very effective in improving size and legibility of handwriting.
- Use a pen grip (round or triangular shaped rubber or foam cylinders available at stationery stores or where writing materials are found) or a larger size pen to keep your hand more relaxed.
- Try printing rather than writing in a cursive style. Printing causes you to pause briefly between each letter, keeping writing more legible.
- Using lined paper may provide a “visual target” to keep all letters big when writing.
- A ballpoint pen typically works better than felt tip or “rolling writer” styles.
- Rest your hand if it begins to feel “tight”.
- Pause briefly when you see your handwriting becoming smaller.
- Avoid hurrying or trying to write long passages if you are feeling stressed.
- Practice helps. Remind yourself to slow down, aim big, and pause often!
I'm sure glad my kids gave me their best Christmas present ever this year. We decided not to bother with gift exchanges and just enjoy getting together. That's saved time for the stationary bike. But will I do it?