Parkinson’s disease affects about one million people in the United States and ten million worldwide. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, Parkinson’s disease (PD) is an extremely diverse disorder. While no two people experience Parkinson’s the same way, there are some commonalities. The main finding in brains of people with PD is loss of dopaminergic neurons in the area of the brain known as the substantia nigra.

It's cause is unknown, but recent studies have suggested that Parkinson's disease begins in the gastrointestinal tract with the production of a specific protein (alpha-synuclein). Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark found that the suspect protein had “traveled to the brain via the peripheral nerves with involvement of precisely those structures known to be affected in connection with Parkinson's disease in humans,” says Per Borghammer, who is professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University in Denmark. The research also found that the same protein adversely affected the heart over time.

The Mayo Clinic notes that Parkinson's disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms start gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. Tremors are common, but the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.

In the very early stages of Parkinson's disease, you may find your handwriting getting smaller and more cramped, your sense of smell may diminish, you may have trouble sleeping, and you may be constipated. As the disease begins to progress, your face may show little or no expression.You may begin to stoop over. Your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. And you may faint or experience dizziness. Parkinson's disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time.

There as yet is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, but a multitude of treatments can help keep it in check. They include exercise. For people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), exercise is more than healthy — it is a vital component to maintaining balance, mobility and activities of daily living. Exercise and physical activity can improve many PD symptoms. These benefits are supported by research.

The Parkinson’s Outcomes Project has shown that people with PD who start exercising earlier and a minimum of 2.5 hours a week, experience a slowed decline in quality of life compared to those who start later. Establishing early exercise habits is essential to overall disease management. Exercise routines should include flexibility (stretching) exercises, aerobic activity, and resistance training or strengthening exercises.

The local Parkinson’s support group regularly meets a 2 p.m., the second Sunday of the month, in the dining room of Wallowa Memorial Hospital. The group was formed in 2009, with Ben Boswell, former County Commissioner, in support. He said, “Some days are very tough; it’s very helpful to be able to share experiences with an empathetic group and find support to carry on to tomorrow.”

Linda Koloski, who backs up husband Mike in leading the group, commented at the 2009 meeting that caregivers also need support. Many participants in the local group attend with their partners.

The local group is sponsored by PRO, serving people in Oregon and SW Washington experiencing or affected by Parkinson’s. The PRO helpline at 800-426-6806 connects people to support.

Questions, or queries about the Wallowa County Parkinson’s Support Group may be directed to Mike and Linda Koloski: mkoloski@eoni.com or 541-426-1806.

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