Originally Published: June 11, 2006 4 a.m.
Parkinson's disease causes an interruption in the process of the brain's attempts to send messages to various parts of the body.
The symptoms of the central nervous system disorder result from the body's lessened production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that in a healthy body binds one nerve cell to another to pass along messages.
For people who have Parkinson's, the disorder can prove frustrating and embarrassing, according to two Prescott men who have it.
Don Bolander and Alan Richardson recently shared their experiences with the disease and their experiences with two local support groups that work together to provide information, communication and research to locals who have Parkinson's and to their caregivers.
"We're not in competition with one another," said Richardson, who is a member of the Prescott Parkinson Support Group. "We provide different sources of speakers and topics."
Doctors diagnosed Richardson with the neurological disorder in 1986 after he started experiencing tremors and twitches.
In his working life, he said, it seemed that people often would focus on the tremors rather than on his face and it sometimes was embarrassing.
Similarly, Bolander, whom doctors diagnosed 26 years ago, said the disease was affecting his ability to speak in public, which his duties included.
Also, mental processing gets slower as a result of the disease, Richardson said.
"In social conversations, it's difficult to keep up," he said.
Often, by the time he thinks of a response to something someone else said, "It's too late. I've missed my turn."
Richardson said people don't often notice the symptoms of Parkinson disease until their bodies have lost 80 percent of their ability to produce dopamine.
Don's wife Kay Bolander said she first noticed something was not right when Don's hand would shake as he was reading the paper.
"I'd hear this rattling," she said.
Don added, "Another thing a lot of patients don't notice is that you'll be walking and you'll swing one arm and the other arm will hang limp."
Kay said spouses often notice the warning signs of Parkinson's before the patients do, and Richardson added that patients often miss things their spouses notice.
For that reason, he said, "A team approach is the best approach in the management of Parkinson's disease. Not all patients respond predictably to Parkinson medications; therefore a neurologist has to rely on the patient and the caregiver for accurate information."
Judy Reza, founder of the VA Parkinson Support Group and a registered nurse at the VA, said she recommends that people keep calendars to keep track of how their medicine works. Sometimes medication wears off, and it often works differently on different people.
"I always say take two people and a calendar to every doctor's appointment," she said.
Reza said her job as a registered nurse at the VA Hospital provides that group with access to medical personnel.
Also, Kay said, many national organizations provide information in the form of books, brochures and articles, to each group for distribution.
Often, Reza said when people first learn they have Parkinson's, they "avoid coming (to support groups) because they don't want to be around people with symptoms."
However, Kay said, the support groups can provide helpful information and communication for people who have the disease and for their loved ones.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org