Parkinson's: What is it and what are the symptoms?
Dietitian Richelle Flanagan noticed a “strange” sign that eventually led to a Parkinson’s diagnosis. “I was working in my dietetic clinic and a patient had come back to see me after five years of not seeing me,” Richelle began. “When I went to write in the record card I noticed my handwriting was much smaller than it had been five years previously and when I tried to make it bigger I couldn’t.”
Richelle admitted she thought: “Okay, that’s a bit strange.” Then, when she went on a skiing holiday with her family, her hand couldn’t stop shaking when she held a mug of hot chocolate.
“The penny sort of dropped,” Richelle said, who was three months pregnant at the time.
“I thought, ‘Okay I need to go and ask my GP to refer me to a neurologist.'”
Richelle told Dublin Live that she had to wait until her daughter was born before she could have a scan to confirm if it was Parkinson’s disease.
“We were shocked to get the diagnosis,” said Richelle. “But I kind of knew in my heart of hearts from researching that it probably was Parkinson’s.”
Soon to be 54 in May, Richelle is determined to raise awareness about the condition.
Richelle pointed out that there are “quite a number [of people] who are under 40” that are affected by Parkinson’s disease.
“A lot of women kind of get dismissed in relation to a lot of the symptoms which are similar to the menopause,” said Richelle, who was diagnosed six years ago.
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“They can be told it’s your hormones and be put on anti-depressants and various other things but, unfortunately, a subset of those people actually have Parkinson’s disease.”
Richelle is launching an app called My Moves Matter, which is a digitalised self-care service for people who have Parkinson’s.
The app aims to help people to remember to take their tablets, see patterns such as diet and exercise, and to gain knowledge.
From her own experience, Richelle found that her Parkinson’s symptoms worsened around the time of her menstrual cycle.
“So, what happens is the week before your period your oestrogen levels and hormones drop, and with that, your dopamine drops,” explained Richelle.
“That’s the neurotransmitter that people with Parkinson’s wouldn’t have as much of.
“So, for women who don’t have Parkinson’s, you have PMS [pre-menstrual syndrome] and feel groggy and brain fog.
“They’re all to do with your oestrogen levels dropping and dopamine dropping.
“But for those with Parkinson’s, they have a low base to start with so it goes further.”
As for her own personal symptoms, Richelle experiences swallowing issues, small handwriting, and fatigue.
Parkinson’s is a progressive disease caused by the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain.
While treatment is available to help control symptoms, the condition will get worse over time.
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