Exercise Helps Everything

Jane Brody’s column this week pretty much nails it: No matter if you’ve got Parkinson’s, cancer, or are simply getting older, exercise is going to help you.¬†

“The single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits, is exercise,” Frank Hu, epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in the Harvard Magazine.

Study after study shows that moderate to vigorous exercise will help you. Haven’t been off the couch in a while? Get started, under the supervision of a personal trainer or physical therapist. Heart problems? Get busy — that’s the best way to pump oxygenated blood to where it’s needed. Depression? Exercise is arguably better than any drug, and it’s drug-free.

Please, read the article. It could save you life — and it will certainly improve the quality of it.

Jamming the Signal: The Effect of Diagnosis on Cognition

The simple act of receiving the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease blew me out of the water. I’ve met quite a few people in support groups for whom the diagnosis was a singularly traumatic event.

And now comes a study of “chemobrain,” the cognitive problems associated with breast cancer therapies, that indicate that the therapies have little to do with it. The Australian doctors presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology earlier this month.
They found that women who were diagnosed as having breast cancer began showing signs of impairment of attention and learning prior to the start of chemotherapy. And most of the women regained most of the lost function by the end of the chemotherapy regime.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the delivery of a grim diagnosis causes problems in and of itself. My mind reeled for weeks after that day in December, 2001, as if the events of Sept. 11 were not upsetting enough. I know the diagnosis was similarly disturbing to Suzanne.
My capacity for evaluating the thicket of choices that confronted me — medication options, implications for my career and family — was definitely limited. Looking back on that time, I wonder how the choices I made would have been affected had I been given the chance to review some comprehensive info from someone who had been there and done that (memo to self …).
But I will be always grateful to my support group friends, who were (and are) there, month after month, eager to help the newly dazed as they search for a way forward.

Problem with Sleep? Only When I’m Not Sleeping

I am so tired.

Knowing that sleep problems are a part of having Parkinson’s disease doesn’t make having a problem any more tolerable. It could be worse: I could be getting no relief at all.

I sleep with a C-PAP, basically a compressor that shoots air under pressure through my nose and into my lungs. The system keeps my upper airways from collapsing at the instant an exhale turns to inhale.

Without it, I would suffer an average of 67 “waking incidents” per hour, all night long, every night. The day after my first night in a sleep lab was bliss, and it only got better as the months went by. My long twilight of ill temper and dulled thought receded into long-term memory.

Every so often, the new routine is disrupted. Maybe it’s the congestion from low-level, seasonal allergies. It could be the new headgear, which gets replaced every few months (the tubing develops pinholes in regular use).

Whatever. The last few days have been tough. I’m slowly gaining more uninterrupted hours each night, but the cumulative effect has been increasingly apparent. Here’s hoping for a good night.

Medications and Cognition

An upcoming paper adds to concerns that anticholinergic drugs can affect cognition in older people. Anticholinergic drugs are often used to treat Parkinson’s, as well as other problems in older people, like incontinence.

Over the years, I’ve taken all three of the¬†anticholinergics, including Artane (aka trihex), and Akineton (no longer available in the US). I’m still taking benztropine, although at a low dosage, due to the common side effect of constipation. My head is clear these days.¬†
However, Akineton definitely affected my thinking. It was manageable, but it made me weird. I’m glad to be off of it.