Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease was shocking and sudden for retired teacher Jennie Powell. Five years ago she went for a routine doctor’s appointment while preparing for a trip abroad - and got more than she bargained for.
“I went to the doctor’s to ask for a travel sedative - I was having back pains and leg pains and wanted something just to calm me down,” said Jennie, aged 71, from Beauchief in Sheffield.
“During the appointment the doctor asked me to walk up and down and he said ‘You’re not swinging your arms’. It was that sudden.
“Before I left he said ‘You’re going out with a bit more than you came in with.’
“I didn’t know who to talk to or where to turn.”
Every day in the UK, 80 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a progressive condition where the brain becomes progressively more damaged over many years.
Symptoms include involuntary shaking - known as tremors - and muscle stiffness, which can make everyday tasks difficult.
The disease is not fatal, and advances in treatment mean sufferers are likely to have a normal life expectancy - but some patients still develop severe disabilities.
Until Sunday, members of the Sheffield branch of charity Parkinson’s UK will be raising awareness of the condition as part of Parkinson’s Awareness Week.
This year’s theme for the awareness week is ‘Taking Back Control’ - helping patients to take charge of their own lives, and change others’ negative perceptions of their illness.
“I didn’t tell anybody what I’d got for quite some time because I didn’t want people asking questions,” said Jennie, who has two grown-up daughters.
However, revealing her illness to friends later helped her to come to terms with her condition.
“I don’t know what I’m facing, it’s a bit of a mystery. I would like to see the impossible - a cure - but I don’t think that’s on the cards.”
Jennie takes medication and also attends regular physiotherapy sessions.
“It has got worse over the last six months and I’ve started to have a few balance problems, but physiotherapy does help.”
While some pastimes, such as country walks, are now too demanding, Jennie still keeps her mind active with new hobbies.
She has recently taken up arts and crafts, raising more than £1,000 for Parkinson’s UK by selling intricately-decorated pebbles.
Jennie said the Sheffield group is also a valuable source of support for people newly diagnosed.
“I don’t know if anything really does bring you out of the shock, but getting better is a hope you have to cling to, I suppose.”
Neurology expert Professor Oliver Bandmann, from Sheffield University and the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: “Parkinson’s is not just a movement disorder but can also cause depression and memory problems.
“It is currently relentlessly progressive and incurable, however more research is being carried out.
“Scientists are working closely together to get a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms leading to Parkinson’s and find drugs to slow down and one day hopefully arrest the disease in the early stages.”
The university is taking part in a project called Tracking Parkinson’s, measuring how the illness progresses in thousands of patients. Prof Bandmann said a screening programme has also identified a ‘very promising new drug’.
A one-day event is running at Sheffield Town Hall tomorrow from 11am to 3pm, organised by Parkinson’s UK and Sheffield Hallam University’s Public Health Hub. Advice and information will be on offer, as well as activities and singing from the ‘Steel City Tremorloes’ group. Call 0114 225 5979 for more details.