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Living with Parkinson's: 5 Ways to Stay Healthier

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At any given moment, close to a million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease — more than those affected by multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) combined.

At any given moment, close to a million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease — more than those affected by multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) combined. In addition, at least 50,000 people are diagnosed each year, and these numbers are rising.

Tremor, stiffness, loss of balance, depression, cognitive impairment and other symptoms can make life difficult for patients and their loved ones, especially since Parkinson’s disease is known to be both chronic and progressive.

Take heart: There’s a lot you can do to improve your quality of life.

1. Stay active.

Johns Hopkins Parkinson’s disease expert Zoltan Mari, M.D. says, “It is possible [exercise] can reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease and it is even more possible it can slow down the progression of the disease. [This] is the subject of intense speculation and research.”

2. Stay connected.

Having a chronic condition can make you feel isolated. No need: Patients, families, practitioners and others can learn about movement disorders and their most effective treatments at information sessions presented by subject experts all year long. Check Parkinson’s disease organizations and medical centers near you to see what programs are available.

3. Stay focused.

Infrequent blinking can cause dry, irritated eyes. Your doctor can prescribe artificial tears or soothing ointments. If you’re experiencing double vision or difficulty focusing, eye exercises or special lenses can help.

4. Stay positive.

Anxiety and depression are part of the Parkinson’s picture. The good news is they don’t have to take over your well-being. These problems are highly treatable with medications and behavioral therapy.

5. Stay tuned.

There’s a lot of research in Parkinson’s disease going on right now, and science is closer than ever to tracking down the causes and developing effective therapy. Dr. Mari says, “There is no question that Parkinson’s disease is caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. We learn more and more about these factors each year.

“The current momentum is toward biomarker research,” he says. “We need to trace certain biological characteristics that can tell us better how well a patient is doing and how far ahead they are in their disease. That ability to track disease progression will help us come up with better treatments to delay, slow or prevent the disease.”

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