With “The Michael J. Fox Show” announced at the NBC upfronts this week for this fall, a not-so-discussed condition — Parkinson’s Disease — is brought to national attention.
Dr. Andrés Deik, a movement disorder neurologist at The Beth Israel Medical Center, came to the U.S. six years ago from Colombia to specialize in Parkinson’s Disease, and now he’s conducting outreach in the Latino community.
“Michael J. Fox developed symptoms in his 30s, and some start developing symptoms in their 80s or 90s, but the most common is in your late 50s early 60s,” he says. “What usually happens is people start getting arm tremors, there is a change in walking, or they become hunched over for no reason, arms and legs get stiff, and muscle cramps.”
Studies show that this neurological disease is twice as likely to strike Hispanics and whites as blacks and Asians.
“It’s a cultural thing,” he says. “There’s really not a culture of exercising with Hispanics. We’re more sedentary. We’re finding out that people who are sedentary don’t do as well as those who exercise on a regular basis.”
He says the cause of the disease is unknown, but it can possibly be linked to environmental exposures like pesticides. It’s also still unclear whether you can prevent the disease, but people who already have the condition develop it slower if they live a healthy lifestyle.
Here are Dr. Deik’s tips on living with Parkinson’s Disease:
1. Exercise as frequently and as hard as you can — At least three times a week, but the more you can the better. This also applies to people at risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease.
2. Take your medicines on time — With time, the effectiveness starts to decrease and to continue feeling good, you have to adhere to a strict schedule.
3. Avoid falls at all costs — Avoid carrying bags up and down stairs. Keep one arm free so that you can use it to hang on to something.
4. Invest in making your home safer — Get rid of loose rugs. Install grab bars in your bathrooms.
5. Treat constipation aggressively — GI troubles are one of the complications of the disease. This can affect the absorption of your medicine. Drink senna tea (a natural laxative) eat prunes and a vegetable rich diet.
6. Hydrate frequently — Blood pressure tends to drop when individuals with Parkinson’s Disease stand. Especially in the summer, they can get easily dehydrated, get light-headed and fall.
7. Use satin sheets and satin pajamas — A frequent complaint is they can’t turn around because they are stiff in bed. Free movement will make you feel better the next day.
8. Avoid shoes with rubber soles — People with Parkinson’s Disease tend to shuffle and they can trip. You also don’t want soles that are too slippery or have too much traction, but something in between.
9. See your doctor regularly — Do not make changes in your medicine on your own.
10. Remain hopeful — A lot of medicines are coming down the pike in the next two to three years. A lot can be done to improve your quality of life. There really is hope. It’s just seeking the right care and getting help when you need it.
“But everybody should exercise — I can’t stress it enough,” says Dr. Deik. “It will add 20 to 30 more years of life.”