Parkinson Society Maritime Region
Parkinson’s patient walks his way to a better life
Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali might be the public faces of Parkinson’s Disease but someone like Mark Pridgeon of Mineville, Nova Scotia can have a stronger affect on the everyday person with the illness.
Mark, 64, was diagnosed with the motor system disorder five years ago. Caused by the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells, Parkinson’s four primary symptoms are trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and impaired balance and co-ordination.
“Being diagnosed was like being hit by a brick,” Mark says. “I was almost 60, thinking retirement, travelling, golf, gardening and all those good things until I was 90. But I discovered I couldn’t move the computer mouse without help from my other hand. When the neurologist told me it was Parkinson’s, I only knew the name. My wife, Joan, and I studied it, and with her urging, I joined the local support chapter.”
He says he quickly realized (with the help and support of the Parkinson Society Maritime Region) that it’s not the worst disease in the world. “It’ll slow me down, make life a little awkward but it won’t kill me. Joan tells me, ‘If you don't get it, it will get you; so try to keep living your life as normal.’ I have.”
The former accountant, now on disability, volunteers as treasurer of the Maritime Society to thank the group that enabled him to learn more about Parkinson’s and realize he can help others.
“Volunteering (also as treasurer of the Halifax-Dartmouth chapter) has kept me active, physically and mentally. I’ve learned from others in our group. I see people with wheelchairs and walkers and realize that could be me in 10 years. My condition hasn’t significantly deteriorated in the last four years and that motivates me to remain as active as possible.”
Dr. George Turnbull, director of the Maritime Parkinson’s Clinic based at Dalhousie University in Halifax, is professor of physiotherapy and associate dean of the Faculty of Health Professions at the university.
The clinic sees people at all stages of Parkinson’s. “We prefer to see them early but, if not, we can offer things to help, including exercise, and provide patients with new developments taking place. The support of the caregiver is also addressed,” says George, who moved from the United Kingdom to University of Manitoba in 1976. Since 1979, he’s been in Halifax. “I’m happy here. It’s a lovely place to live.”
He’s made a solid contribution to the Parkinson’s community. “I realized people with Parkinson’s had good medications but suffered physically from not doing anything. They were taking it easy which is totally wrong. The clinic, opened in 2000, was proactive by stressing exercise and activity at first diagnosis, rather than waiting for the body to break down.”
Different individuals are given appropriate programs – from treadmill walking to weight machines to normal walking for extended periods.
“We even recommend they not park in handicap zones but walk further,” says Turnbull. “Those who exercise do better.”
The clinic, originally funded by the Canadian society, is now supported by the Maritime Region and the university.
“Most of our fund raising goes to support, education and research,” says Maritime Region board chair Rudy Knight, a Halifax insurance and estate planner. “We estimate there are about 8,400 people with Parkinson’s in the region (that includes Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.). People think it’s an ‘old people’s disease’ but now people are diagnosed at age 40.”
Knight says those who think they have early onset can contact the Parkinson’s office by computer (www.parkinsonmaritimes.ca) or phone (1-800-663-2468). Many, he says, don’t want to attend a support meeting and see what they might be like in their 70s or 80s.
“Awareness is high on our list,” he says. “The more information the public has about Parkinson's, the more they seem to be willing to support our cause."
Turnbull, a former board chair, praises Mark for being a local face of Parkinson’s. “He’s always front and centre of any study we do, and has done very well. The ones who have a good attitude, who realize exercise is as important as taking their meds, do better. Those who moan, ‘Why me?’ aren’t as successful.”
Mark agrees. “My advice to a newly-diagnosed person is to get involved, learn more about it. Don’t run away from it. Meet long-time patients at support groups and they will be a big help. And remain active.”