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Observing Parkinson’s Awareness Month

Parkinsons Disease

Join families and foundations this April in bringing awareness to Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is “the fastest growing neurological disease on the planet,” according to the official World Parkinson’s Day website. Parkinson’s affects 10 million people across the world — 1 million of whom live in the United States — and is second only to Alzheimer’s as the most common neurodegenerative disease. This April, join your fellow nurse practitioners (NPs) and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) in celebrating the advances made in diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s, the health care providers caring for people living with the disease, collaborative activities like social media campaigns and continuing education (CE) related to Parkinson’s at the 2024 AANP National Conference.

History and Mystery

What we now call Parkinson’s disease has existed longer as a nameless set of observations and listed maladies, and for most of history health care providers lacked a focal point to understand how this ailment affected the body and mind. In his article “The History of Parkinson’s Disease: Early Clinical Descriptions and Neurological Therapies,” Christopher G. Goetz writes that prior to the groundbreaking and namesake James Parkinson’s 1817 “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy,” “traditional Indian texts from approximately 1000 BC and ancient Chinese sources also provide descriptions that suggest Parkinson’s disease.”

By becoming the first to center this disease in neurology, Parkinson — an English surgeon who died only seven years after his famous essay was published — would become known as the first medical professional to comprehensively describe the disease. But much of what was unknown in the early 19th century about what we now call Parkinson’s disease is still unknown to us today.

For example, while the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Aging notes that “when nerve cells in the basal ganglia, an area of the brain that controls movement, become impaired and/or die,” we see “the most prominent signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease occur.” However: the NIH notes that “scientists still do not know what causes the neurons,” — those nerve cells — “to die.”

More than one hundred years after the first overarching definition of Parkinson’s, what actually causes this degenerative disease is still a mystery. More positively, however, is that diagnosing, treating and bringing awareness to Parkinson’s disease is advancing in ways that Dr. Parkinson would be astounded to see when he first began his study of “shaking palsy” so long ago.

Advances in Diagnosis and Care

On the first day of Parkinson’s Awareness Month, the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) announced what the experts in their new Stephen and Denise Adams Center for Parkinson’s Disease Research hope to accomplish — and what they already have. YSM communicated that their new director, Clemens Scherzer, MD, “envisions a future in which a person with Parkinson’s disease can walk into a clinic and provide a few drops of blood that a computer program can analyze to identify the patient’s genome and biomolecules. Clinicians would be able to use this information in addition to the patient’s electronic health data to determine the exact disease driver and to recommend precision therapeutics based on tailored biomarkers.”

NPs, in addition to treating and working with patients with Parkinson’s disease, are also on the cutting edge of scholarly research related to the disease. In the Journal for Nurse Practitioners, NPs have recently collaborated on articles like “Speech and Swallowing Problems in Parkinson’s Disease,” “Cannabidiol (CBD) Consideration in Parkinson Disease,” and “Insomnia: An Underrecognized Nonmotor Symptom in Parkinson Disease.”

The Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners published an article entitled “Genomics of aging: Reactive oxidation and inefficient mitochondria,” which “describes the role that mitochondrial dysfunction plays in the development of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, cancer, heart disease and stroke.” Another article, “Counterpunching to improve the health of people with Parkinson’s disease,” finds that boxing programs made for people with Parkinson’s disease can positively affect their health — both physical and mental.

Awareness Activities

The Parkinson’s Foundation states: “For us and the one million Americans living with Parkinson’s, Parkinson’s awareness is more than a month. It’s about bringing attention to a life-changing disease that is on the rise and connecting people to critical resources.” To that end, campaigns to help raise awareness and promoted by the Parkinson’s Foundation include the ABCs of PD (or #ABCsofPD), featuring entries on Parkinson’s-related conditions and facts like “incidence,” “Lewy body dementia” and more to inform the public through a memorable and easy-to-digest formula. The Parkinson’s Foundation has also created a social media kit including ample ways to get involved — like posting about and joining an activity like the Moving Day Walk (#Move4PD) or by taking part in the Run for Parkinson’s (#Run4PD) initiatives. Other creative individuals and organizations are finding their own ways to bring awareness to Parkinson’s disease this year. Mark Backes plans to run 3,000 miles from the Santa Monica Pier to the Empire State Building, a 75-day journey that he is running in memory of his father and in support of his wife, both of whom were diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

A dance company based in Baton Rouge, Louisianna, called Of Moving Colors Productions has created the Dance for Parkinson’s program, which takes place every Thursday and “empowers participants to explore music and movement in ways that are stimulating and refreshing. These classes are designed for people of all ages and abilities, including people with Parkinson’s Disease and their companions, offering a fun and creative outlet in the form of dance.” These responses to the reality of living with or living with others experiencing Parkinson’s disease — both self-guided and collaborative — are just a few options for confronting Parkinson’s with determination and positivity.

Continuing Education Related to Parkinson’s Disease

Earn CE while you learn even more about Parkinson’s disease while attending the 2024 AANP National Conference, June 25-30 in Nashville, Tennessee. On Thursday, June 27 at 10:30 – 11:30 a.m., Nanette Lavoi-Vaughan, ANP-C, CGCP, DNP, will present There is a Giraffe in My Salad: Neurobiological Behavior in Older Adults, which discusses “the pathophysiology and presentation of neurobiological behavior in Parkinson’s disease, TBI, post stroke and Huntington’s disease as well as treatment strategies and tailored interventions.” This activity offers one contact hour (CH) of CE credit.

Another activity at the 2024 AANP National Conference is Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis and Management, taking place on Saturday, June 29 at 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. This presentation, by Joan Miravite, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, FAAN, will showcase “an overview of different types of movements, how to evaluate a patient with movement disorders, how to perform a movement focused clinical exam” and much more.

For even more CE related to Parkinson’s disease, Early Identification of Dementia and Treatment Options is available until October 15 in the AANP CE Center and offers one CH of CE credit; 0.5 of which may be applied toward pharmacology.