NAPLES, Fla. — April is Parkinson's Awareness Month. Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disease that impacts movement, speech, and thought. But there is support for people with Parkinson's in Southwest Florida.
Larry Sternberg lives in Naples with his wife Karin, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 15 years ago.
“I thought this was the end of the world," he said.
But he said the Parkinson's Association of Southwest Florida has supported them through it.
“There is no turning Parkinson's back, but you can stay the symptoms or improve some areas of them for a while," Mary Schoeffel, the Executive Director of the Parkinson's Association of Southwest Florida, said.
She said there are three basics that help people live well with Parkinson's: exercise, diet, and good sleep. She said their programs are designed to help people with those three basics, and are free to anyone in Southwest Florida.
“We have at least 12 exercise sessions in person and via Zoom still. We have six different speech practice exercise therapy sessions," Schoeffel said.
People with Parkinson's lose their ability to project their voice. She said before one Southwest Florida man started their speech therapy program, he was really struggling.
“He had called the pharmacy three times. And the pharmacist or the person who answered the phone said, 'Is anyone there? I'm sorry, I can't hear you,'" Schoeffel said.
But she said six weeks into the program, he finally got through.
"He was able to successfully make a call to renew his prescription," she said.
And Schoeffel said simple things like that can make all the difference.
Because depression is common with Parkinson's, the Parkinson's Association has support groups; and not just for people diagnosed with the disease.
"We have a support group for the female care partners of men with Parkinson’s. We have support groups for the male care partners of females with Parkinson's. We have a support group for couples," Schoeffel said.
Eventually, a Parkinson's diagnosis can reach the point where a caregiver needs outside help.
"Understanding how to interact and engage with people living with Parkinson's can really change the quality of life," Susan Nimnuan, the Vice President of BrightStar Care in Fort Myers and Naples, said.
BrightStar Care is an in-home care agency that has experience caring for people with Parkinson's and sponsors the Parkinson's Association of Southwest Florida.
"We are Struthers Certified, which is an additional training that we put all of our staff through, our administrative team, as well as our caregivers. So we all really understand what it goes into to be a caregiver for someone living with Parkinson’s,” she said.
Parkinson's causes a loss of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is important in the neuropathways for speech, movement, and thought. There are some treatments that can help.
"The drugs that they have can help replace, but not fully, the loss of dopamine, and not as efficiently and effectively," Schoeffel said.
Right now, there's no cure for Parkinson's, but that isn't stopping Sternberg from holding out hope for the future.
"There are really good therapies that are coming down the road. Not maybe for us, but a little later on, we may be looking to a cure for Parkinson's Disease," he said.
All money donated to and raised by the Parkinson's Association of Southwest Florida stays in Southwest Florida. If you're interested in donating, click here.