LAURINBURG — When Doris Milligan’s husband began showing signs of depression, she thought it was due to a recent lifestyle change — the couple, very active throughout their lives in Laurinburg, had just moved to Pinehurst.
But after several visits to neurologists, Doris finally found out what was ailing her husband — Parkinson’s Disease.
“They all said it’s progressive, here, take this medicine,” she said. “… By the time I got him to a specialist it was too late.”
Now Milligan, whose nursing knowledge goes back “almost as far as Florence Nightingale, but not quite,” uses information gained through research to help others who are either actively managing their Parkinson’s or are — as she says — “in denial.” In partnership with Scotland Health, the Scotia Village resident helps to organize a support group for those living with the disease, but says its low attendance does not represent the amount of people in the community she suspects are affected.
“I think there’s a stigma attached to it because it’s caused by something that goes wrong in the brain,” she said. “I think people are afraid it means they’ve gone crazy in some way.”
Always, but especially during April, Parkinson’s Awareness Month, Milligan wants people to be aware of the causes and symptoms of a disease which often strikes those in their early 60s.
Parkinson’s is caused by a lack of dopamine, the brain substance which helps to control movement. Some 1.5 million people in the US have Parkinson’s Disease— more than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease combined.
While some, most notably Michael J. Fox, exhibit the uncontrolled movements most associated with Parkinson’s, muscle tremors are not the only symptom of the disease. Sufferers can also exhibit stiffness, poor balance, soft speech, dizziness and depression or mood swings. Other symptoms include small handwriting, memory loss, constipation and reduced sense of smell or loss of appetite.
Milligan has seen several of the symptoms in others, particularly a slowness of movement and soft speech. Those affected with the latter feel as if they are shouting when they speak in anything above a whisper.
It was one of the indicators that led to Klaire Van Dusen’s diagnosis. For years, her and her husband Bob thought she was suffering from arthritis. The diagnosis was life changing.
“She doesn’t have Parkinson’s — we have Parkinson’s,” says Bob, who is her full-time caregiver.
With a combination of exercise and medication, Klaire is able to mostly keep the disease under control, recently even sewing again, creating patchwork pieces from squares Milligan gave her.
“You can still have a quality of life,” Milligan said.
There is no cure for the disease, but researchers believe it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Many symptoms can be controlled through a combination of medication and exercise, though the right mix is often found via trial-and-error.
“It’s one of those things like cancer or Alzheimer’s — it really needs more research,” Milligan said.
The support group meets in the Community Health and Rehabilitation Center at Scotland Memorial Hospital from 3-4 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month — this coming Tuesday, April 22. May’s meeting is scheduled for May 19, a Monday, when a guest speaker will share her journey with Parkinson’s at 5:30 p.m.
For information about the group, contact Milligan at 910-276-4868.
Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 12.