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Fighting Parkinson’s Disease through Exercise and Engagement

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“You can’t let this disease give you a reason not to do things,” Carolyn Gloudemans said. “You just have to do it your way.”

Two years ago, Carolyn was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disorder where the brain slowly stops producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. When the brain produces less dopamine it becomes more difficult to regulate body movements, like walking, and emotions.

Carolyn had a hard time accepting the diagnoses because she had already been through so much. In 2004, she was diagnosed with Mantel Cell Lymphoma. She fought back with a stem cell transplant, but the lymphoma returned. In 2007, she underwent a successful bone marrow transplant. She recently celebrated nine years of being cancer free.

When she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s she was still working as a full-time registered nurse, trying to persevere through the symptoms — difficulty walking, clumsiness, falling and tremors in her left arm. She eventually had to retire from a beloved nursing career and would particularly miss working with newborn babies. She began to feel like she was at a dead end with life.

But five months after her early retirement, her family read an article about the Parkinson’s Foundation annual event: Moving Day®, A Walk for Parkinson’s. It was exactly what she needed to get her out of the house and into a local park.

When Carolyn began training, she was barely able to walk a quarter of a mile, but with her doctor’s help in adjusting her medication and providing tips to improve her gait, she continued to walk three days a week with her sister.

Carolyn would not give up. She couldn’t let her disease be an excuse. Her nine brothers and sisters, their families and her mother joined her Moving Day team, Carolyn’s Cruisers, and crossed the finish line by her side. Carolyn did it — she completed her first 5K. It was an emotional and uplifting moment that reinforced what she had learned — life may look different, but with adjustments and motivation, she’s still in the fight.

There’s no standard treatment for PD. The progression of the disease is unique to each patient, as are the symptoms and treatments. Options include medications, surgical therapy, lifestyle modifications like frequently resting.

Exercise is an important part of healthy living for everyone, but for people with Parkinson’s, it is a vital component to maintaining balance, mobility and the ability to perform activities of daily living. In fact, the Parkinson’s Foundation Parkinson’s Outcomes Project study has proven that at least 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise each week can help manage Parkinson’s symptoms.

Establishing exercise habits is an essential part of overall disease management. All types of exercise are beneficial and starting right away is important. “Wherever you are after your Parkinson’s diagnosis, starting exercise now is the best choice,” said Peter Schmidt, Ph.D., Parkinson’s Foundation senior vice president, chief research and clinical officer. “Don’t delay. Talk to your doctor, find an exercise you enjoy and get started!”

Moving Day highlights movement and exercise as a symbol of hope and progress because of its essential role in treating Parkinson’s symptoms. Moving Day supporters help fund research, education and vital resources for people with Parkinson’s, caregivers and their families. They also play a vital role in helping the Parkinson’s Foundation spread Parkinson’s awareness.

Moving Day is more than just a 5K walk (or the shorter ½K option). The event features local services, providers, sponsors, vendors, food, entertainment and the Movement Pavilion — a tent where participants can try different Parkinson’s-tailored exercises taught by professionals.

“I left Moving Day hoping that I impacted at least one person by completing the walk,” Carolyn said. “That hope is my reason to keep moving on and never give up!”

To learn more about the Parkinson’s Foundation, visit www.parkinson.org. To join the next Moving Day® event in SoCal on October 28, 2017, in Marina Green Park in Long Beach, CA, visit www.MovingDayLA.org or email local staff Sarah Osborne at sosborne@parkinson.org.

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