Next In Line

Ballerina
Ballerina

When you’ve been blessed with the companionship of the Little Monster we so familiarly and ‘un-affectionately’ call Parkinson’s Disease, you may get tense and tight at the mere mention of… PD.

For some with Parkinson’s, you haven’t experienced much stiffness. Maybe no pain.  Maybe lots.  Whether you have or not, there is something you can do for yourself that will keep you a little looser, a little more mobile, a little happier.  It’s a little treat you can give to yourself.

A massage.  Massage therapy has been proven to improve the patient’s day to day activities, sleeping habits, walking, stress, and more.  Rigidity, stiffness, fatigue and more have also been proven to get relief from this little treat.  If these symptoms aren’t addressed, depression, a poor self-esteem, and or isolation can set in or get worse.

In a five week study where patients with PD were given muscle relaxants versus massage therapy two times a week, both groups showed improvement but the trophy went to those receiving massages.  They showed a greater response in their ability to handle day to day activities and in their stress levels (going down).

We’ve always known a back rub feels nice.  A massage will not only help the rigidity, stiffness, stress, etc., it will leave you feeling great.  Most neurologists or Movement Disorder Specialists will advise you to add this as part of your treatment.  So, grab your car keys and tootle on down to the local massage therapist (make sure you choose someone reputable – consult your doctor), and make yourself an appointment.  Maybe you’ll have timed it well and be the next in line.

Check your healthcare insurance program.  Some will cover this type of treatment to some degree, as it is considered treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.

Dystonia and Bear Hugs

imageDystonia.

A neurological movement disorder that deals with sustained muscle contractions, causing twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures and can be a part of having Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms of dystonia can include disturbed sleep patterns, tiredness, depression, poor concentration, change in vision, and more.  Normal activities can be more difficult to carry out.  Dystonia mimics other diseases as well, making it extremely important to not self-diagnose.  Neurologists and Movement Disorder Specialists are physicians specializing in various areas such as dystonia and Parkinson’s Disease, with the ability to clearly differentiate (although sometimes difficult in doing so, depending on how the disease manifests its symptoms) the similarities of diseases with commonalities such as these.

As well as the experiencing the symptoms listed above, dystonia tends to lend itself to continuous pain, cramping and muscle spasms. Because of the areas that can be affected, penmanship may become altered, dropping items becomes common, turning pages becomes a struggle.  The list can go on.

Focal dystonias are the most common types of dystonia are known as focal dystonias.  Another – Cervical dystonia – affects the neck muscles, whereas blepharospasm dystonia is known to affect the muscles around the eyes.  When the jaw and tongue muscles are affected, it is known as oromandibular dystonia.  The voice can be affected, causing a ‘crackling’ sound and is known as spasmodic dysphonia. When a patient suffers from both blepharospasmodic contractions and oromandibular dystonia, it is referred to as cranial dystonia, also known as Meige’s syndrome.

imageWhile some cases can worsen over time, some can almost be mild in their degree of symptoms and their affects on the body. Many drug treatments have been successful in managing symptoms, but recent treatments using botox have proven extremely successful for 3-6 months when injected into the affected areas.  Many PD treatments, including deep brain stimulation, are used for treating dystonia and are quite promising in helping the patient to cope with the disease.

What may seem like an odd treatment may actually be one of the best received and most helpful… a big hug. It has been proven that when encased in a tight ‘bear hug’ the tension and tightening of the contracted muscles are often released when squeezed tightly.

There aren’t many diseases (if any, that I am aware of!) that respond to such a simple, welcomed treatment. So – the next time you’re struggling with stiffness, spasms, and pain associated with having Parkinson’s disease and/or dystonia, ask a loved one to give you a tight bear hug and hold you for a few minutes.  You’ll  not only feel better physically but in every other way as well and so will they.  There is healing in a hug – for everyone involved.

Get It Out

imageLast summer, the findings of a study conducted by the University of Houston were released regarding the well being of female breast cancer survivors, specifically Chinese women. This ethnic group was chosen primarily because of the stigma cancer holds within the Chinese community.

“Unlike the Caucasian population, many Chinese have less knowledge of breast cancer and they feel that the cancer is very threatening, and they associate it with immediate death,” said Qian Lu, assistant professor and director of the Culture and Health Research Center at the University of Houston.

The study, which was published in Health Psychology, a scholarly journal, was based upon writing. Each of the 19 participants in the study (based in the Los Angeles area) were given health assessment questionnaires before the study began, followed by three sets of instructions.
In week one, patients wrote about their deepest thoughts/fears/emotions in regards to their experience with breast cancer.

Week two, they wrote about coping mechanisms they used to relieve stress brought on by the disease, and in week three they were to write about their positive thoughts and feelings. The patients who put in 20 to 30 minutes each day regularly (3-4 days per week) for the three week period saw positive change in relationship to their immune system.

The report stated that the purpose of the writing exercise was “to facilitate emotional disclosure, effective coping and finding benefit, which would work together to bring stressors and personal goals into awareness and regulate thoughts and emotions relevant to the cancer experience.” It also went on to say that the “release offered by writing had a direct impact on the body’s capacity to withstand stress and fight off infection and disease.”

So – what’s this have to do with Parkinson’s disease?

I don’t think Chinese women have an edge when it comes to writing about their illness, disease, sickness, heartache, joy and/or thanks-givings. No – I believe that writing is good for anyone’s mind,  soul,  heart, and  spirit. You can scratch down (or type out) your thoughts and feelings and say whatever you choose in regards to how you’re feeling. It’s a release of pent up frustrations, anger, fear, confused thoughts, sorrow, grief – the list could go on and on. It’s a release when no one else will listen or when no one may understand. It’s called journaling. It’s therapy in its least expensive form (besides the one on one sharing of conversation between two good friends).

Journaling (or as the study referred to – writing) will not cure cancer. It will not cure Parkinson’s. But it will allow for a place to dump the stress and walk away, perhaps leading to a feeling of life being a bit lighter. When you’re body isn’t focused on fear, grief, sorrow and the like, it has a greater capacity to “withstand stress and fight off infection and disease,” as Lu stated above. Journaling offers the opportunity to get out your fears without feeling foolish. To release the grief over feeling you’ve lost something valuable. To be thankful for what you do have.

And that last sentence is important…

If you spend your time journaling everything negative about your life with PD, your life with PD will be anything but positive. There are still good and beautiful things to behold in the midst of this journey. So, if you are thinking about journaling your life with Parkinson’s disease, either as a patient or a care giver – release the fears, the unshed tears, the grief and the sorrow onto paper but make sure you include and end with the positive. Always end with something positive.

It’s there. I promise.