About 80 people gathered at the Sun Valley Inn on Saturday to learn about the latest research into Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that afflicts at least 500,000 Americans. An estimated 50,000 more Americans contract the disease each year.
The disease is very difficult to diagnose, due to many "mimic" disorders that present similar symptoms, but effective treatments for severe cases are becoming increasingly mainstream.
Early warning signs of the disease include constipation and the physical acting out of dreams during the night.
"We are here to tell you what is hot, what is new and what we can do for you," said Dr. Kenneth Brait of St. Luke's Clinic.
Brait was joined by David Shprecher, an assistant professor of neurology, and Dr. Lauren Schrock, both of the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Brait said that before 1970, Parkinson's disease was considered a "death notice," but is now considered a chronic disease thanks to medications such as Levadopa and electric deep-brain stimulation therapies that provide relief from symptoms.
Parkinson's Disease, which afflicts 1 to 2 percent of people over 65, is marked by stiffness, slowness and uncontrollable tremors.
Shprecher said definitive diagnoses of the disease can be problematic, but that the University of Utah is undergoing a study of early detection using routine colonoscopy examinations. He said the first symptoms of the disorder often occur after a traumatic stress or injury.
Shprecher said studies indicate that nicotine and caffeine use reduce the risk of contracting Parkinson's disease, while exposure to pesticides, especially plant-based rotenone, can increase the risk by 3 to 5 percent.
"It is important that we question the use of every toxin in our food supply," Shprecher said.
Schrock presented an overview of deep-brain stimulation therapy, which involves implanting two electrodes deep within the brain programmed with a "brain pacemaker" to electrically stimulate specific areas.
"If your tremors are bad and drugs are not working, you could be a good candidate for deep-brain stimulation," Brait said.
Schrock said about 80,000 Parkinson's patients worldwide use deep-brain stimulation to control symptoms.
Ketchum resident Norman Friedman, who is active in the community of Parkinson's survivors in the Wood River Valley, recommended practicing Tai Chi, a non-martial art, to control symptoms of the disease.
Zenergy-based physical trainer Erin Finnegan said she had "exercise strategies" to control Parkinson's symptoms, including "big and loud" accentuated movements.
Schrock said it is important for Parkinson's patients to find exercises that they enjoy, and that they will continue to practice.
"It could be ballroom dancing," she said.
To learn more about the Wood River Valley's Parkinson's patients and caregivers support group, call Pete and Diane Mohn at 622-7414.
For more information, call St. Luke's Center for Community Health at 727-8733.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org