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LETTER: Remembering the victims of Parkinson’s

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Feb. 26, 2014 was declared “Parkinson’s Day of Action” by the Parkinson’s Action Network. Because this issue is very personal to me, I felt compelled to share my story to raise awareness about this disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive neurological disease. The primary symptoms are tremors and loss of movement, as well as cognitive and behavioral changes. Currently there is no cure, therapy, or drug to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

While medication masks some symptoms for a limited period, dose-limiting side-effects do occur. Eventually, the medications lose effectiveness, leaving the person unable to move, speak or swallow.

My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 55. He was a beloved dentist in Scottsburg.

My dad was a well-liked and well-respected member of the community. He had a dry wit, a caring heart, and would not hesitate to work evenings or holidays to help a patient in need. He practiced for 30 years before he was forced to retire due to Parkinson’s disease. People still stop to tell me how much they miss him. I miss him, too.

For almost 15 years, we have not only had to watch my dad decline physically and mentally, but we have also had to endure mood, personality and behavioral changes that have been devastating. My mother, his main caregiver, bears the burden of his illness with grace and poise.

What are rarely discussed are the terrible side effects of Parkinson’s medication, which add to the family stress of gradually losing a loved one right before your eyes.

One side effect of his medication is compulsive behavior. This has caused issues with gambling and other behavioral complications that were uncharacteristic of my dad prior to his illness.

Last summer my father, who had been a model citizen his entire life, now at the age of 69, declining in health and mental capacity was arrested for indecent exposure.

These behaviors are, in some patients, an unfortunate side effect of the medication.

Losing a parent is always difficult. In losing a parent to Parkinson’s disease, they slowly slip away from you right before your eyes, often becoming people you don’t recognize.

On this day of awareness, we offer our gratitude to the doctors and scientists who are working to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease or a treatment of medication to slow its destructive nature.

To the families who are losing a loved one to this terrible disease, I want you to know that you aren’t alone.

I ask that you please join me in prayer for Parkinson’s patients and their families, who grapple with the side-effects of this illness with a brave face, as my mother does each and every day.

We love my dad for who he was and who he is, and we always will.

ERIN HOUCHIN
Salem, Candidate for State Senate, District 47