Field of red and pink tulips for World Parkinson's Disease Day

World Parkinson's Disease Day

April 11th is World Parkinson's Day and April is Parkinson's Awareness Month. Happy birthday to James Parkinson! He was a neurologist, geologist, scientist, and activist.

He was born April 11, 1755 and died December 21, 1824. We celebrate World Parkinson’s Day each year on his birthday and we focus our attention on Parkinson's awareness in April in honor of him and his discoveries.

The red tulip

When you see a pink ribbon, you likely think of a breast cancer survivor or breast cancer awareness. Likewise, for Alzheimer's disease awareness, a purple ribbon is the chosen color.

Interestingly, for Parkinson's disease awareness, it is a red tulip. It was developed by J.W.S. Van der Wereld, a Dutch horticulturist who had Parkinson’s disease.

He dedicated and named this tulip for James Parkinson. It was described as follows, "exterior being a glowing cardinal red, small feathered white edge, the outer base whitish; the inside, a currant-red to a turkey-red, broad feathered white edge, anthers pale yellow."

The compassion of James Parkinson's

In 1817, James Parkinson published "An Essay On The Shaking Palsy." When you read about James Parkinson, you notice his intelligence and compassion for helping others:

"James Parkinson (1755–1824) worked as a general practitioner in the semi-urban hamlet of Hoxton, northeast of the City of London, where he had been born, and where he lived all his life. In addition to his daily work in general practice, James Parkinson was a public health reformer, an advocate of infection control in London workhouses, a medical attendant to a Hoxton madhouse, a writer of political pamphlets and children’s stories, a geologist and fossilist, and the author of a textbook of chemistry."1

The essay itself very carefully and accurately portrays Parkinson’s disease, which he called shaking palsy. He did not name the disorder after himself.

Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot suggested that the Parkinson’s name deserved to be linked to the disorder that he had so accurately described; thus, "Maladie de Parkinson" (Parkinson’s disease).

Describing the symptoms

The essay describes 6 patients, with detailed comments like:

"So slight and nearly imperceptible are the first inroads of this malady, and so extremely slow its progress, that it rarely happens, that the patient can form any recollection of the precise period of its commencement. The first symptoms are a slight sense of weakness, with a proneness to trembling in some particular part; sometimes in the head, but most commonly in one of the hands and arms."

Also, he went further:

"But as the malady proceeds, even this temporary mitigation of suffering from the agitation of the limbs is denied. The propensity to lean forward becomes invincible, and the patient is thereby forced to step on the toes and fore part of the feet, whilst the upper part of the body is thrown so far forward as to render it difficult to avoid falling on the face."

Finding a cure

Parkinson was aware of the suffering these patients were going through:

"the unhappy sufferer has considered it as an evil, from the domination of which he had no prospect of escape."

But he was hopeful for finding a cure for this disorder:

"...there appears to be sufficient reason for hoping that some remedial process may ere long be discovered, by which, at least, the progress of the disease may be stopped."

A link to the complete essay is added to the references section below.2

Stay hopeful

To me, it is essential having some knowledge and a history lesson on our disorder named Parkinson's disease.

However, I want to focus on your continued journey with Parkinson's. Here are some quotes for you to read and ponder in celebration of Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month.

"When the unthinkable happens, the lighthouse is hope. Once we choose hope, everything is possible." - Christopher Reeve

"Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out." - John Wooden

Use courage

Use courage and perseverance if you feel lost or defeated:

"Courage is the most important of all the virtues because, without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently." - Maya Angelou

"Sometimes, carrying on, just carrying on, is the superhuman achievement." - Albert Camus

Find balance

Balance your life with exercise to try to slow progression.

"You see, you don't get old from age, you get old from inactivity, from not believing in something." - Jack LaLanne

Focus on the present

Use mindfulness to calm yourself.

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” - Omar Khayyam

Embrace the journey

Always remember that you are still you, the person within you remains there today and will for many more days to follow.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

Make awareness month meaningful

During the month of April, I will be spending time telling others about how exercise is medicine for Parkinson's. Is there something you can do for Parkinson’s Awareness Month?

One suggestion is to start by making people around you more familiar with this disorder. It is important to help others learn more about this neurodegenerative disease.

Let me know what you are doing if you decide to participate in some activity for Parkinson’s Awareness Month.

However, as you approach your disorder with steely-eyed-determination, treat every new day as a day for Parkinson's awareness. It will make a difference in your approach to treatment and hopefully yield an improved quality-of-life.

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