"I don't have to worry about Parkinson's"
Diagnosis: Young-onset Parkinson's disease
Treatment: Comprehensive care
Fifty-four-year-old Pat Erickson is one busy woman. She does the bookkeeping for her husband’s business.
She watches over, and chases after, her 3-year-old granddaughter several times a week.
In her costume as “Mrs. Wigglesworth,” she acts out stories to delight students at Shoreline-area elementary schools.
And she has Parkinson’s disease.
Pat was just 45 years old when neurologists confirmed that she had Parkinson’s, a disorder of the brain that leads to shaking and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination.
Since then, she’s been cared for by neurologist and movement disorder specialist Dr. Pinky Agarwal at the Booth Gardner Parkinson's Care Center, part of EvergreenHealth Neurological Care.
“Pat is one of 3 to 4 percent of patients at the center who have what’s called young-onset Parkinson’s,” Dr. Agarwal reveals. “Parkinson’s is mainly a disease for patients 60-plus, but we even have a patient in their 20s who has it.”
More than physical symptoms
Actor Michael J. Fox was just 30 years old when he was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s, shining a spotlight on the symptoms of, and treatments for, a disease that many had previously associated solely with older people.
“Young-onset patients generally respond to the drug levodopa better, and their symptoms progress more slowly, than in older-onset patients,” Dr. Agarwal explains. “But the symptoms that are present can be dramatic: dystonia, an involuntary twisting of the legs; and dyskinesia, abnormal involuntary movements that are related to medications typically prescribed for Parkinson’s patients.”
Dr. Agarwal adds that because of that, the center tries to delay levodopa in younger patients and focus on preservation of health.
But the care doesn’t focus only on the physical aspects of the disease.
Having to deal with it at a much younger age, and for far longer, means people with young-onset Parkinson’s are likely to be dealing with more than just their physical symptoms.
Dr. Agarwal describes it as a constant balancing act. “In many cases, our patients have young children; they’re trying to balance the disease, balance life and work. They need to know how to plan for retirement. All of those issues are very unique to them.”
Fortunately, the Parkinson’s Care Center has the experts, and the expertise, to help. The neurologists, neuropsychologists, nutritionists, social workers, counselors and therapists create care programs tailored to the specific needs of each patient, specific for age.
The center is also a nationwide leader in clinical trials for patients with Parkinson’s. “Young people are excellent candidates for clinical trials,” Dr. Agarwal says, “because they are often otherwise healthy, and they are looking for a long, long life ahead.”
Young onset patients also have good outcomes from deep brain stimulation surgery for Parkinson’s disease.
Helping others with Parkinson's
Pat Erickson hasn’t let Parkinson’s disease slow her down. In addition to her family and work responsibilities, she stages vintage-clothing fashion shows several times a year. The proceeds go to various Parkinson’s organizations.
“I don’t have time to worry about Parkinson’s,” she shares, “and with the help of the EvergreenHealth Parkinson’s Care Center, I don’t have to.”
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