Middle Georgia has the assets to become a model of excellence for the care of Parkinson’s disease sufferers. Our challenge is to mesh those assets into a true system.
April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. An important awareness point is how little information patients often receive at diagnosis.
All too frequently, they get a prescription and are told to return in three months for a follow up consultation.
There is little guidance offered patients on finding valid information about the dread neurological condition or their future with it. Plus, there is no PD care system for them to enter.
Patients are left alone, very alone, with their incurable but treatable malady
PD is an ultimately unknowable condition. Each case is unique to the person. Mine is mostly internal, not readily visible. (intestinal, urinary, equilibrium, balance, temperature control)
I was diagnosed in 2014, eight or more years after, in retrospect, my first symptoms appeared. It often requires destruction of 70-80% of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain for full-blown Parkinson’s to manifest itself.
Dopamine is the chemical that aids nerves communicate with muscles, a kind of body-produced WD40.
The numbers about Parkinson’s incidence are approximations. One million cases in the U.S. Seven million worldwide. Fifty thousand new cases a year in the U.S.
Second most common neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s. Incidence is forecast to double in the next 20 years.
Georgia natives and residents are particularly at risk.
Agent Orange is a known causal agent. Georgia has large numbers of veterans who served in Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange.
Certain agricultural chemicals are also linked to PD. We are a rural, agricultural state.
A key answer and action step is to strengthen the teamwork between family doctors who diagnose PD and expert neurologists who prescribe a treatment plan.
Equally challenging is the lack of a care system for patients to enter for guidance and assistance in making necessary lifestyle improvements. Those include diet, exercise, social engagement and mental discipline.
We can pool the university, health-care-organization and foundation assets we have in Middle Georgia and create our own ”system” of care.
Doing both would move us to the front rank of states doing well by citizens who are fighting back against their enigmatic malady.
An important marker of a state’s vigor in PD treatment, for me, is the availability of an acclaimed exercise program named Rock Steady Boxing (RSB).
Florida has 32 RSB franchises. North Carolina 19. Tennessee 9. South Carolina 7. Alabama 6.
Until recently, Georgia had but one, in northwest Atlanta. Savannah and August are recent additions.
Georgia could vault to the front rank by strengthening the ties between family physicians and expert neurologists and by creating an effective, after-diagnosis care system.
Let’s start doing both.