December 6, 2013

Ritalin for Parkinson's? I'm Encouraged. But Will It Make Me Even Grouchier?

I saw a recent report that Ritalin, the drug used to treat ADD in children, might help Parkinsonians like me with balance problems and other PD symptoms. Searching the internet for more info, I found that Ritalin might improve fine motor skill by enhancing levodopa, the standard medicine used to treat Parkinson's.

Other studies indicated that the drug alleviated fatigue and helped with "freezing of gait," a common PD issue. Someone in my support group said he had used Ritalin and found it helpful.

Should I Take Ritalin?
I'm a strong believer that "less is more" when it comes to pills, prescribed or OTC. Every new pill increases the risk of bad interaction. I checked Ritalin against my current meds on and didn't see any red flags for potential adverse interactions.

Next, I checked with my neurologist, who said several of his PD patients were taking Ritalin. But he cautioned me to proceed slowly, since Ritalin is a powerful, potentially addictive drug -- a worry in light of my addictions to alcohol and nicotine. He said Ritalin might also disturb sleep and mood, causing increased irritability. My family and friends are having enough trouble dealing with my current irritability!

So -- with some misgivings -- I got a prescription for the minimum (5mg) dose of methylphenidate, Ritalin's generic. Though it's typically prescribed twice daily, my neuro suggested I pop only one pill a day for the first two weeks. If that trial run goes smoothly, I can begin taking the second pill.

Off to a Surprisingly Promising Start
I've been taking the Ritalin for three days now. Maybe I feel a bit less fatigued, and the bum right arm seems a little stronger. Placebo effect? Perhaps.

Yesterday, I had an encouraging experience during an appointment with a new occupational therapist. I'd scheduled the session to see if he could help with the increasing frustrations I'm having at the computer keyboard (many, many errors) and also with my small, cramped handwriting -- "micrographia" -- a common problem for people with PD.

The OT first administered some tests to assess the strength in my arms and hands. I was surprised when he said my bum right arm was nearly as strong as my left, and that both hands tested about the same.

The biggest surprise came when he asked me to copy in long hand the first two stanzas of Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken. The result amazed me: the writing was big, strong, and clear -- just as it had been over a year ago, before the micrographia took hold. It seemed a small miracle.

I'm not home free. The OT also asked me to copy the same material on the computer keyboard. That result? Riddled with errors. And by day's end, my handwriting was back to "small and cramped."

I'm not ready to appear on TV with Dr. Oz or Pat Robertson to tout Ritalin as a cure for PD. Still, I'm hopeful that the combination of this drug with ongoing occupational therapy might just restore some arm strength and hand dexterity . . . or at least slow down the rate of decline.

Stay tuned.

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