Parkinson’s is usually considered to be an older person’s disease but Larry Gifford was diagnosed with it at just 45 years old.
Since then, the radio program director has been raising funds for research aimed at finding a cure and he’ll be sharing his journey through a new podcast.
When it comes to managing the illness, Gifford says the key is his support network, which includes his family, other Parkinson’s patients and medical professionals like his neurologist, Dr. Jonathan Squires.
The movement disorder neurologist says daily exercise, for at least 30 minutes, is one of the best ways to manage the disease, but the reasons why are not well understood.
Like with many neuro-degenerative disorders, little is known about the illness. In fact, there’s not even a surefire way of knowing someone has Parkinson’s, at least not while they’re alive.
“Despite that Parkinson’s disease just celebrated its 200-year anniversary last year, the only definitive way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease is to do an autopsy at the time of death,” Squires said in an interview with Global News.
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So physicians like him rely on patient stories and physical exam findings. With the number of patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s expected to grow significantly in the coming years, Squires says, the medical field just isn’t ready.
“There’s a widespread shortage of neurologists in general,” he said. “Our wait-list here at the centre is one-and-a-half years or so and despite recruitment, you always feel you’re swimming against the tide.”
From boxing to CrossFit, Gifford says he has been taking his neurologist’s advice to exercise, adding his monthly support group meetings at the Parkinson’s Society B.C. in Vancouver have helped him cope with his new normal.
The meetings serve as a reminder that Gifford isn’t alone and also give him a chance to get advice from those who have lived with Parkinson’s for years, like Richard Mayede, who says he was diagnosed 13 years ago.
“I think one of the things I did initially was I … thought I’ll just deal with it on my own,” Mayede said.
“But actually having met people with Parkinson’s really opened my eyes to what can be possible and how much hope that these people have,” he added.
Gifford remains driven to use his diagnosis as a catalyst to help others.
“Parkinson’s is probably, at some point, going to steal my voice … so while I still have it, I need to use it for good,” he said.