Last Saturday, my wife, Angela and I had the great privilege to address over 300 people with Parkinson’s and their carepartners/caregivers in beautiful and historic Williamsburg, VA at the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) Virginia Education Day. This event was hosted by the APDA Hampton Roads Chapter and the APDA Richmond Metro Chapter.
Angela and I participated in a couples talk with Charlie and Cammy Bryan, who are well known for their state-wide work, writing and advocacy. We really enjoyed working with them! The moderator, Don Bradway, knows both couples and did a masterful job of getting us to talk about our lives, perspectives on Parkinson’s disease, and our philosophy on living well with Parkinson’s. We got to meet so many amazing people who are living well with Parkinson’s!
Neurologists from around Virginia did an informative panel on understanding, managing, and living with Parkinson’s disease. My friend and fellow advocate, Bob Pearson did a talk with a neurologist on the importance of clinical trials and his experiences in participating in these studies. A clinical dietitian, Ms. Ka Wong from Hunter Holmes McGuire Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Richmond did a very informative talk on inflammation and diet.
The final breakout, held concurrently with the caregiving session, was a panel introduction to the benefits of a variety of therapies including PWR!, Rock Steady Boxing, Yoga, LSVT/BIG and SPEAKOUT!, and Tai Chi! My wife attended the caregiver session which was a panel discussion with three family caregivers. This panel shared their experiences on a variety of caregiver issues, provided informational tips and offered resources.
What was unique about this conference was the variety of people sharing their knowledge with our Parkinson’s community – those living with Parkinson’s, the medical community, allied health professionals and more. This event happens every other year and brings Virginia’s Parkinson’s community together to review the developments in Parkinson’s disease, to inform, to inspire, and to educate.
Today, 9-11, marks an historic and tragic event that not only shook America but the entire World. The attacks of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA impacted the World, changing everyone’s lives. This day will forever commemorate the lives lost that tragic day and the heroism of the men and women who met the challenge of saving lives while risking their own. For a very brief period, I saw something that I had never truly witnessed, experienced, and appreciated.
On the frenzied morning of the fall of the Twin Towers, my wife and I were stranded in Atlanta where rental cars were nearly unattainable. Planes were grounded and we needed to get back to the DC area. The country seemed under attack and we were acutely alert, vigilant, and nearly paranoid–but, something beautiful rose out of the fear and chaos.
For about three weeks or so, a warm and loving blanket of compassion covered much of the World as citizens gave of themselves. In this time of immediate need, when so many were in shambles, volunteers ran to assist in various ways, just to be kind and of service. This is the best part of humanity–the caring, giving, sharing, and loving part that unites our citizen’s eternal hope and fortitude.
The acts of kindness like receiving a much needed rental car from someone that we barely knew, so that we could get closer to home, renewed our faith in doing good.The coming together and generosity reminded me that goodness still existed. An horrific event that took so many innocent lives brought us all together. I treasure the wonderful camaraderie of pride and love for humanity that shone for that gorgeous but ever so brief moment in time.
I have been fortunate to meet hundreds of people over these thirty plus years with Parkinson’s disease (PD) at numerous events. After a while, you notice more and more about yourself and those around you. It’s a question that I have been asking for years: Is there a firm personality profile, specifically for people who get or are more likely to get Parkinson’s disease (PD)?
Many of the neurologists that I have shared the idea with, have told me that there wasn’t a profile, while an occasional doctor thought that I might be on to something. I have always had a curious mind and having met so many people from around the world with PD, it has given me an opportunity to make some non-scientific observations and even a rough hypothesis. Here are a few of my thoughts: People with PD are mostly well-educated, professionals, type A, over-achievers, in high stress work, curious, creative, and are outgoing people. People with Parkinson’s are often risk takers and not risk averse. They appear to be determined and are driven to a result. From personal experience, people with Parkinson’s are rich in questions, have an insatiable curiosity, and are quite clever.
What if there is a Parkinson’s profile? What does it mean? Could it help lead us to helping people even before they begin showing symptoms? Parkinson’s disease affects people in so many unique ways that it has been discussed that it could be more than one disease. If PD is more than one disease, it could take several varying solutions to get this illness under control?
The complexity of the human brain and body is unimaginably daunting. It’s inner workings, connectivity with multiple systems, and the diversity of chemical reactions and maintenance is hard to fathom.
In the past thirty years, while I have seen numerous studies, trials, pharmaceuticals, surgeries, procedures, and therapies, however, I have yet to see a targeted individual plan that works for everyone with Parkinson’s. Maybe, if there were an understanding of what our universal link or links to this disease were, we could break it down and eliminate what it is that unites us all, illness-wise.
The brain and all its’ complexities have proven to be a formidable opponent in giving up answers. Parkinson’s disease is a mysterious and complex condition that is going to take multiple approaches to unraveling its’ secrets.
Ben Franklin is quoted to having said:
“Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight”.
This quote speaks to me when discussing Parkinson’s disease or any illness. Living our best life now, prepares us for a better life in the future. For many of us who try to live in the moment but sometimes slip into predicting the future, we create unnecessary worry, fear, and anxiety. Procrastination for taking care of ourselves now, only delays our future wellness.
There are actions that we can take to prepare for our future physical health, financial health, mental health, and spiritual health. Some future planning can be very helpful in reducing future anxiety.
Our creative and active imaginations can run away with innumerable variations of what our future self will look like. Put a hold on that thinking and focus on the now. Our futures are variable, undetermined, and largely up to the decisions that we make, right now. Fate, destiny, karma, and the universe are most likely going to intervene as well, so let the winds blow and hope for the best, but don’t fret over the outcome, especially if it hasn’t happened, yet.
The quote also refers to the ‘sunlight’, something we all need but many of us with Parkinson’s are susceptible to skin problems. Due to the way our medications may impact our skin to sunlight, it is so important to apply sun protection to our skin, avoid direct sun exposure, monitor your skin, moles, and marks for any changes that might be a red flag to rush to your Dermatologist.
Franklin was focusing on staying positive and keeping a positive attitude for the future, in his quote. This is a message for us all to remember when we look to the future. The unknown isn’t to be feared but should be a fresh opportunity. The future may be different than we expect it to be, but it doesn’t have to be negative just because it is out of our control.
One question that get all the time, is how to manage their diet with medications, protein, and their Parkinson’s symptoms. Today, I am thrilled to bring you someone who knows Parkinson’s disease, was a registered dietitian, has written and advised extensively on the subject of Parkinson’s and diet (I am vegetarian and some of the following recipes are my guest’s suggestion), and now, will share her knowledge with you! I am so excited to present my interview with Kathrynne Holden:
Question 1: What pointed your focus in nutrition to Parkinson’s? Was it a personal focus for a loved one or a need that you saw that had to be addressed?
I discovered a need that had to be addressed. In university, we studied medical nutrition therapy for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and many other conditions; also food-medication interactions, of great importance for dietitians. After graduation I offered free counseling at our senior center, and a gentleman asked if there was any special diet for Parkinson’s disease. In seven years of study I had never heard of Parkinson’s disease, so I said I would do some research and get back to him. What I learned on Medline was staggering. There was a vast array of nutritional obstacles, including a major food-medication interaction: levodopa and protein. Yet there were no nutritional guidelines, either for patients or health professionals. I determined to narrow my focus to Parkinson’s disease alone. In the process, I coauthored research, wrote two manuals for dietitians as well as books for people with Parkinson’s and their families, and contributed to two physician’s manuals on Parkinson’s. Currently several of us are petitioning our parent organization, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to include Parkinson’s Disease as a condition requiring nutrition therapy. If successful, insurance coverage might be a result as well.
Question 2: What should every person with PD know about diet and this illness?
Karl: Maybe, you can list a few suggestions. For me, I noticed that my meds efficacy and my digestion improved from being a long-time vegetarian. I discovered that my pills activated faster when I took them with caffeine and that Not until I visited Hawaii did I find out that Macadamia nuts were a natural laxative. These were helpful tidbits that I had to find on my own.
Kathrynne: Karl, you’ve hit on one of the most important points. Medication effectiveness, digestion, and constipation are concerns for almost everyone. But the solutions can be quite different from one person to the next. And no one knows you as well as you do, so it’s important to be your own detective, and learn what works best for you. But here are some points to consider.
For constipation, besides fluids and a high-fiber diet, some foods that can help include, as you note, macadamia nuts, kiwifruit, cashew nuts, cooked prunes, beets, flax seed, whole grains, and well-soaked chia seeds. You’ll need to experiment to find what works best for you.
For those using levodopa, some people report that taking it with a carbonated drink such as seltzer water speeds its absorption.
It’s also important to take levodopa 30 minutes before meals containing protein, so it can dissolve and enter the small intestine for quick absorption. Do not take it with, or right after, meals, because the stomach hasn’t emptied and the levodopa can’t pass through to the small intestine. Also, because Parkinson’s can slow the motion of the gastrointestinal tract, it can take 90 minutes or longer for the stomach to empty. If it doesn’t seem like your levodopa is effective, it may be due to slowed stomach emptying, a question to discuss with your doctor.
Also, when timing of meals and levodopa is complicated it can help to use quick-absorbing “liquid levodopa.” The Parkinson Foundation has instructions for making it. Go to Parkinson’s Disease Medications: https://f5h3y5n7.stackpathcdn.com/sites/default/files/attachments/Medications.pdf On page 73 find the “Formula for Liquid Sinemet.”
Question 3: We are all very different in our symptoms, medicines, and stages of illness but is there a universal truth that can benefit all our diets?
Yes. It’s important to realize the value of whole foods, as opposed to vitamin and mineral supplements. Parkinson’s is a stressful condition, and stress, along with other conditions, creates “free radicals” – very reactive particles that cause damage in the body and brain. But antioxidants stabilize free radicals, making them harmless.
Foods are a much better source of antioxidants than supplements, because foods contain substances that support each other and make the antioxidant more effective. For example, a Brazil nut contains vitamin E, which you can also get from a pill. But the Brazil nut contains the entire array of tocopherols and tocotrienols that make up vitamin E, and it also contains selenium, an antioxidant mineral that works with vitamin E, forming an antioxidant combination much more powerful than either one alone.
Vegetables, fruits, and nuts are rich in antioxidants, as well as fibers that both help prevent constipation and serve as food for our “friendly bacteria” known as the microbiome. Some good examples are berries, grapes, plums both fresh and dried (prunes), carrots, beets, blue corn, broccoli, pecans, bell peppers. Another excellent food is fatty fish, such as salmon, for omega-3 fatty acids that benefit the brain.
Here are links to recipes using some of these foods, by George Mateljian, whose work in nutrition is excellent, I’m a great fan:
Sautéed Vegetables with Cashews
Super Carrot Raisin Salad
5- Minute Blueberries with Yogurt
5-Minute “Quick Broiled” Salmon
Question 4: It is believed that Parkinson’s disease begins in the gut. Have you seen diet make an impact on your client’s symptoms as well as progression?
It seems likely that PD may begin in the gut via the vagus nerve, which is a pathway from the digestive tract to the brain. In an analysis, researchers found that individuals whose vagus nerve was severed were at a much lower risk for developing PD. But scientists believe that there are likely to be other causes besides the gut-brain pathway. Some also theorize that unhealthy gut microbes may communicate to the brain by way of the vagus nerve, and that maintaining a healthy microbiome might lower risk of PD.
Regarding diet’s impact on PD, yes. Persons with PD who turn to wholesome, nourishing foods, have offered such comments as “digestion has improved,” “PD symptoms have lessened,” “depression has lifted.” It appears that with a good diet, medications can be more effective, and there is a general sense of improved well-being.
It’s possible that this could be due to nourishing the gut microbiome – the colony of microorganisms that live in our gastrointestinal tract. We now know that dietary fibers are food for these beneficial microbes, keeping them in good health. They can then communicate with our DNA to influence our health. A healthy microbiome appears to help prevent the inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome that so often plague people with PD. It fights cancer, and may be a factor in preventing some types of depression. Some strains produce a dopamine byproduct that is associated with better mental health.
But they need to be fed the proper food – dietary fiber – in order to do their work. That’s why whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are so important, and why refined flour and sugar and highly-processed foods are so harmful – they leave nothing for the microbiome to feed on. I recommend eating a variety of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, because each has different fibers, and the various types of microbes each need their own kind of fiber.
Question 5: What should we be avoiding in our diets to get the most from our food and to assist our medications?
I would avoid what I call “anti-foods” – those that are made from refined, highly-processed ingredients like white flour and sugar, hydrogenated fats, and artificial colorings and flavorings. Many of the ready-to-eat frozen meals and canned soups fall into this category.
Also, as much as possible I would avoid produce grown with herbicides and pesticides in favor of organically-grown produce. There is a growing association between pesticide and herbicide use and risk for Parkinson’s disease. Organic foods are often more expensive, but the Environmental Working Group posts a list of foods that are the most and least contaminated. See their website: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php Good food will never let you down.
My thanks to Kathrynne Holden for making this interview possible. I am very appreciative that she shared so much great information on diet and Parkinson’s disease with us! I hope you find this interview helpful. Eat Well!
Kathrynne Holden, MS, RD (retired) is author of “Eat Well, Stay Well with Parkinson’s Disease,” “Cook Well, Stay Well with Parkinson’s Disease” and “Parkinson’s Disease and Constipation (CD)” See her blog at nutritionucanlivewith.com for more on nutrition for Parkinson’s disease.
The month of April is upon us and this means a month of Parkinson’s awareness! There is an array of events, fundraisers, lectures, walks, and more that are planned for April, around the world. If you or someone that you care about is looking for an event in your area, you may want to Google: local Parkinson’s events in my area, or visit your favorite Parkinson’s organization/charity website to see what they have going on, or consult your local support groups, hospitals, clinics, to see what you might attend locally.
We have updated our events page on this website for the speaking engagements that Angela and I will be presenting this month. If you are in the Northern Virginia area and have an interest in hearing us talk, please visit the 2019 upcoming events page and see what talk you think might interest you. We look forward to seeing you at one of the events on our list of future events!
Watch for more upcoming events and updates! You may want to subscribe to our site, to get the latest post fresh off the press.
In my 30 plus years of dealing with Parkinson’s disease and attending numerous events, conferences, walks, lectures, World PD Congresses, I have amassed an extraordinary collection of Parkinson’s disease related tee shirts which I will commemorate and share with you this April. This first tee shirt is sort of a mystery, but I believe it was created by my dear friend and Parkinson’s advocate, the late James Trussell. He was a dear friend and is greatly missed. He gave so much to the Parkinson’s community!
The shirt speaks of unity and strength–what a perfect message to start Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month!
Watch for more tee shirts from my collection, this month!
Trust, faith, hope, and diligence are four key components to seeing your way through any health challenge. Personally, they have made my 30 years with Parkinson’s disease more than just sustainable. Living well with Parkinson’s disease takes a variety of skills that must be honed and used. Before I get to trust, let me express the essential weight that faith and hope play when facing illness.
Without faith and hope our internal drive shuts down and leaves us vulnerable to only worsen our condition. We all need to visualize a path for our future, whether it is a leap or a small step. Your path is yours alone and only you can determine the scope of your vision.
When I speak of trust, I mean the belief in oneself as well as believing in others. Trusting that if we follow our gut, listen to our inner voice, and do what we know in our head/heart is a big part of making a good decision. There is much more, though. When it comes to making an informed decision about your medical condition, it is best if you’ve done the research as well. You may want to consult those around you for their opinion.
Trusting your doctor’s decisions, his or her pharmaceutical suggestions, surgical outlook, or any other decision will require your educated consent. You have the free will to reject or accept your doctor’s suggestions. Trust can only go so far when questioning your doctor. You must weigh the pros and cons of the proposed medicines and possible procedures. Providing cogent reasons and facts for why you are adamant about going against a doctor’s wishes needs to be thought out and be thoroughly researched. Depending upon the severity of the recommendation, a second or third opinion may be needed, despite the trust.
Diligence means making use of your time and taking care of yourself. There are things that you can do for yourself that even your doctor can’t. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping a schedule take discipline but can be very helpful when structuring your day. If you take medicines every day, structure is crucial to stay on time when administering medicines.
There was a time when we didn’t question our doctor’s advice, but with greater access to information and a better understanding of therapies, nutrition, exercise, diet, meditation, reiki and more, there is real opportunity to work with your doctor. As a constant seeker of information about improving your condition, you become a resource for your doctor and are empowered with knowledge that may unveil new options for your future.
In 2003, I attended my first Young-Onset Conference in Atlanta where I met some great people and made lifelong friends. In 2004, I was asked to join the planning committee right after the Minneapolis meeting. In 2005, I would help organize and arrange conferences each in a chosen city until 2008: Phoenix, Reston, Chicago, and Atlanta. Attendance was strong, and the Conferences brought in people from all over the world. The Conference for many of us turned into a large family get together.
The events were not only planned by the committee, but each member would present at the Conference as well. We were encouraged to live by example and to motivate the crowd. Our dynamic group of people with Parkinson’s covered an array of topics of how to live well with the disease.
When you bring hundreds of people together with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in one place, everything Parkinson’s seems normal and the world outside our hotel seemed odd. A peace came over us, where explaining ourselves to why we were doing what we were doing wasn’t necessary. Parkinson’s was the normal for this closed and safe environment and we all understood one another. A symptom of the illness or a drug side effect needed no explanation, but if it did it wasn’t drudgery to relate. An overwhelming feeling of belonging and being part of something that was changing people’s lives provided us an amazing opportunity. When the final day of the event came around, parting was hard for us all.
The medical information was helpful, but the living knowledge provided to us was empowering. What really made the difference in most of our lives was the freedom that we felt inside those walls and the relationships that we would take away. It takes a special event to recall so many joyous encounters around what could have been a maudlin event—but it was not.
The unity of these participants was unlike any other that I had ever seen. The newly diagnosed were being encouraged by those who had a little more experience with the illness. For many of the attendees this was there first conference devoted to Parkinson’s as well as the first time meeting another person with the disease. This was an important moment for thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease.
This was an event sponsored by a large foundation, organized largely by a committee of 7 or 8 Parkinson’s patients, which focused on educating, empowering, and enriching those diagnosed with PD. Most of the lectures were from those living with the disease and not those attempting to treat this disease. Who better to advise on how to live with an illness than those living with the experience?
There is a place for medical conferences where the program is filled with medical expertise and experts related to the illness of choice. Far too often, I see conferences about living well or living better, but the conference organizers neglect to include the ones who are living with the condition. The ones who are living well with the disease are the experts, in my opinion.
A doctor can tell you about research, medications, studies, and possible medical procedures, but they can’t tell you what it is to live inside our bodies. They can speculate and imagine, but it just isn’t the same. A conference for people with a specific illness, like PD, ought to be planned by the ones who understand it the most.
Expression and making our voice heard is hard enough but if you throw in a neurological wrench like Parkinson’s disease, a whole host of challenges can arise. Some of us speak softly while others may find it difficult to form words or sentences. Our words are often judged be it vocabulary or elocution. But, real expression goes beyond the boundary of words as the transcendence of understanding relates to us through the mediums of photography, oils, pencil, music, film, video, and a host of other outlets.
How we interact with the world is only limited by our imagination. Through the medium of painting, viewers and appreciators experience the work at a gallery or museum, but this is limited access. Paintings gather deep and powerful feelings and yet limit a very particular sector of the overall population. Whether you are a viewer or creator of art, our understanding of the medium and the message make a difference in the impact. There is no doubt that the artistic personality of anyone stifled by illness is at a loss without the therapeutic reward of a creative medium.
Just as a dancer feels the urge to leap and twirl, those with limited mobility and restricted movement may need to express themselves in a manner beyond their media of choice. Bottled creativity may be wasted and untapped. The frustration and built up anxiety of sustaining our message or messages, only adds to feeding the powder keg. When done right, awareness and understanding can come about, through our expressions. Finding an outlet for any sensory message and making one’s “voice” heard is a human necessity, like breathing.
Photography, for over 40 years, besides the written word, has been a favorite medium of choice. Every photo that you see on this site, for the past 10 years was taken by me. Capturing a moment in my life or nature through photography is gratifying and almost Zen-like. When I find myself in a mountain valley or a sun-drenched beach, my focus becomes nothing but the beauty around me.
Those of us with limited options for expression must delve into exploratory mode to uncover the medium that we think fulfills the message that we mean to convey. This is art therapy. Offering creative solutions or even simple solutions can make a difference in a life.
Recently, I have been the recipient of kind acts from those who I don’t know. I am grateful. It warms my heart that an Etsy store owner gave us a beautiful serving spoon as a gift when we bought a book from her. Unprovoked, out of the blue, it was simply a kind act that touched both me and my wife.
Touching other’s lives, whether it is directly or from afar, can change the direction of one’s day or one’s life, depending upon how long you hold on to that feeling. Kindness begets kindness and perpetuates goodwill. It feels good to know that you have made another human being feel good. Kindness comes at anytime and can be displayed anywhere. Here are 15 ways to consider passing on kindness and making those around you and those not so close a little happier:
- Share at least 1 genuine compliment with anyone you encounter in person or online.
- Do a little more for someone than what they asked, if you see that they are in need.
- Buy a homeless person a warm drink and a blanket on a cold evening.
- Keep an eye out for animals that may need medical care or shelter from the weather.
- Start a Go Fund Me page for someone in dire straits.
- Take time out of your day just to listen to someone who needs to be heard, without criticism.
- Offer your expertise to the less fortunate at a reduced rate or for free for your services.
- Join a non-profit board to help get an organization off the ground.
- Buy a cup of coffee, a morning sandwich, a side of fries, or a cookie for the person behind you in line.
- Give the person in line at the grocery store with 1-5 items, the right of way and let them go before you.
- Offer a stranger a smile, a laugh, or just a kind word of encouragement to make their day.
- Be a mentor, a friend, or just be a good listener to those seeking your counsel.
- Offering compassion and understanding to one in need is a wonderful experience.
- A phone call to alleviate a neighbor’s loneliness or sharing homemade cookies with the family down the block can change lives.
- Be kind to yourself and share that feeling with those around you.
Sometimes just being a good listener is enough. Just helping one other can create a chain reaction of goodness. When we assist others, we help ourselves in the process. Be creative in how you make a positive impact in another’s life.