The Very Real Cost of Denial and Apathy

When you are first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, it’s typical to go through the stages of grief. Without counseling, many view the diagnosis as a death sentence, with nothing to do but take medicine to mask the symptoms until the disease progression robs you of your mobility and independence.  But the latest scientific research reveals a very real cost to delaying a more proactive approach to your treatment.

By the time of diagnosis you’ve lost more than half your dopamine producing capacity. Those neurons continue to die at a steady pace, so every day lost to denial or apathy has a real and potentially unrecoverable cost. Our article, Beginning Your PD Journey, offers several things you can do now to live well with PD, but the focus at PD Gladiators is combating PD with vigorous exercise. You have to read the Petzinger, Ahlskog and Farley & Hirsch scientific articles on exercise, PD and neuroplasticity–actual changes in the brain that may slow progression, produce compensatory mechanisms to restore functions lost to PD deficits or even rejuvenate or regenerate lost neurons. Exercise gives us hope that we can take back some control from this terrible disease. Vigorous aerobic exercise produces a brain chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factors, which may create the ambiance for more finely-tuned, goal-directed activities–those that directly address the mobility, balance and coordination deficits we face–to burn new neural pathways that compensate for those deficits.

Naturally, the best time to start exercising is as soon as possible after diagnosis, before fatigue and mobility issues make it harder (but not impossible!). Before more neurons bite the dust.

I have become a big fan of group exercise adapted for people with PD because (a) the exercise is targeted towards our deficits, (b) there’s a sense of camaraderie that develops among the group because we’re fighting a common battle that is not completely understood by others (dang arm-swingers)–a support system that I find more natural than in the support group setting, (c) I don’t feel like as big a dork when I start tremoring wildly or mix up my left from my right (a habit our boxing trainers have learned to fear and respect!) and (d) I am more likely to adhere to my exercise program because I look forward to seeing my friends, both my fellow PwPs and the instructors, who tend to be special people in their own right.

If you can design an exercise program on your own and have the discipline to stick with it, that’s fantastic. But don’t delay! Unfortunately, the PD won’t disappear and the neurons won’t stop dying while you’re on your Sinemet honeymoon or just going about the ordinary business of living while you’re still relatively unimpaired. The best way to fight back is by creating an effective, fun and sustainable exercise routine and stick to it.

At PD Gladiators, a nonprofit organization, we are trying to create a network of PD group exercise opportunities in the Atlanta metro area–and a community partnership with the YMCA of Metro Atlanta–that we will promote to neurologists as a one-stop shop for their PD patients’ exercise needs. We are in the (hectic) process of launching and expanding the network now, but we are sponsored by the National Parkinson’s Foundation, the Georgia Chapter of the APDA, the Georgia Parkinson’s Association, the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, and Ability Rehab (a local therapy operation that is active in the PD community). With the unified support of all that PD knowledge and firepower, how can the neurological community resist joining the fight to elevate exercise as a top choice weapon to fight PD!

How can you?

Fight back! And keep an eye on how we do with the PD Gladiators Metro Atlanta Fitness Network. Maybe our methods will spark interest in group exercise adapted for PD in your community, too.

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