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Thursday September 17, 2009

Cochrane Times.com - When Larry McClennon was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease four years ago he was completely shocked.

“I’d never ever heard of Parkinson’s before,” said the 67-year-old.

He had just retired from his engineering career a year prior to the diagnosis, ready to tend to his acreage northeast of Cochrane, but that all changed, and McClennon and his wife Diane relocated to Gleneagles because maintaining an acreage lifestyle was too much work.

At first Diane noticed Larry’s arm didn’t swing the way it was supposed to when he walked, but Larry just brushed it off, blaming it on old age. Later his doctor noticed some changes and sent him to a neurologist in Calgary where his diagnosis was confirmed.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease that affects 100,000 Canadians. It attacks people when the cells die that normally produce dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between the nerves in the brain. Parkinson’s symptoms that may appear are slowness, stiffness of muscles, impaired balance, and tremors.

Shortly after the diagnosis the McClennons joined the Parkinson support group in Cochrane. They were among the first couples to get it started four years ago and now it boasts 50 members, caregivers included.

Bob Head organizes the support group that meets 10 a.m. each Thursday at St. Andrew’s United Church.

“There’s so many who have developed very close friendships. We always look forward to our get-togethers every second Thursday of the month,” said Head.

Parkinson’s has primarily been considered an old person’s disease and while the average age range of group members is between 50 and 60 years, people are being diagnosed with the disease at earlier ages.

The group is a support to both Parkinson’s suffers as well as their caregivers.

“I get a lot of support from people who have gone through a similar situation,” said Diane. “We talk about having Parkinson’s and being open with it.”

Head is also a caregiver. His wife was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 12 years ago and had since been honing his caregiver skills.

“As the disease progresses the caregiver has to do much more, for example a lot of driving,” said Head. “If it’s a man he has to adapt to house work or meal preparation perhaps, ensuring they are able to get to their appointments, being understanding of how the disease affects sleeping patterns and also ensuring that the homes are equipped if you are handicapped.”

Larry considered himself lucky to have married a now-retired psychiatric nurse, as Diane is knowledgeable and comfortable helping Larry the medication he takes three times a day. Since there is no cure for Parkinson’s, medication is the only hope for relief right now.

“It keeps you from shaking. It allows you to move,” said Larry.

As the day progresses he feels better, but come evening Larry can’t be out much past 9 p.m. because he loses his energy and his body starts to shut down.

“You just learn to accept these things and carry on,” said Diane.

Regular exercise also helps Larry retain as much of his mobility as possible. While he finds dancing is the best exercise, he participates in the Living Well Program at Spray Lake Family Leisure Centre.

“I went through a difficult period. I started to tremor on the track, but it’s gotten to the point where I don’t tremble,” said Larry, adding overcoming public perception of disease has been the hardest part.

Beside his Parkinson’s support group he’s also found acceptance from All Saint’s Anglican Church.

My fondest hope is a cure,” said Larry. “My real hope is the progression will slow to a stall, so I can have many years of reasonably good life.”

In an effort to support treatment, patient care and new research, the McClennons are gearing up for this years SuperWalk fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease on Sept. 13 at the Cochrane Ranche Historical Site. Registration starts at noon and the walk begins at 1 p.m., a barbecue and entertainment to follow. Those who bring a friend who hasn't participated before will get entered into a draw with a minimum of $25 each. Last year the 5km walk in Cochrane raised $20,000.

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