Jane Denmark taught science at Baldwin County High school for 15 years. It was on a stormy day in 2007 when a tornado warning was issued when she ushered her students into the halls, and was asked “Mrs. Denmark, are you nervous?” It was then that a student pointed out the shaking in her left hand. Mrs. Denmark realized something was wrong and went to her doctor, and eventually she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD).
Today, Jane and her husband Al Denmark are Research Advocates for the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. I was able to hear Mrs. Denmark’s story, as well as those stories of Mr. Norman Snell and Mrs. Janice Hendrickson when I attended a Support Group meeting for PD patients in North Baldwin County. The group meets the 4th Tuesday of each month at the North Baldwin Fitness Center and is led by Cindy Still.
Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, the chemical which send messages to the part of the brain that control movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, the amount of dopamine in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control their movements normally.
There are no tests to aid in a diagnosis of PD, however the disease should be diagnosed by a neurologist with experience and training in assessing and treating PD; ideally a movement disorder’s specialist. While Mrs. Denmark and Mr. Snell first knew there was a problem when they noticed a tremor, Mrs. Hendrickson had actually lost her sense of smell 20 years ago. Mrs. Hendrickson did not know at the time that her loss of smell would have anything to do with PD, and it wasn’t until 2010 when she developed a tremor that she received her diagnosis.
Sitting and listening to each of their stories, I learned that no two PD patients are the same, that with an array of symptoms it is rare that any two patients present PD in the same way or progress in the same manner. Some of the key motor symptoms of PD are: tremor, slowness of movement (bradykinesia), muscular rigidity or stiffness, and postural instability (impaired balance and coordination). Other symptoms can include: pain, dementia, fatigue, depression, constipation, cognitive changes, fear, anxiety and urinary problems.
Mrs. Denmark stated, “This is a hard disease. Hard because there is no cure.” While there is currently no cure, there are treatment options available (medications and surgery to manage symptoms). As many as 1-million Americans live with PD, and 60,000 people in the US are diagnosed each year. Average age of onset is 60, while 4% of individuals are diagnosed before age 50. For more information on PD you can contact our local PDF Research Advocates, Al and Jane Denmark at 251-937-4246 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation website, www.pdf.org.
(Ed. Note: Article author Ashley Jones is the Marketing Manager at the North Baldwin Chamber of Commerce)