Not smelling skunk is generally a very good thing, but in the case of Anne McIsaac, it was a sign of a much worse problem than smelly animals living on her property —it was a sign of Parkinson’s disease, or PD.
McIsaac was having friends over at her home in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood of Montreal when people started complaining about an unpleasant smell. McIsaac was completely oblivious. Diminished ability to smell is a common sign of Parkinson’s disease, but McIsaac did not know that.
The next sign she noticed was depression. She went from specialist to specialist to find out what was wrong, and was eventually prescribed antidepressants. After two years of medical appointments at several clinics and hospitals, she found out PD was the underlying cause of her depression and poor sense of smell.
McIsaac was making a living advertising brands through social media. It was her dream job, allowing her to travel to exotic locations and have amazing experiences, but the fatigue caused by PD forced her give it up. “It was an absolutely gorgeous career, but very tiring,” she says. “So I really had to finish. I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Eventually a friend recommended McIsaac go to The Neuro. There she met Dr. Anne-Louise Lafontaine, a neurologist and director of the Movement Disorders Clinic. She began to be followed by the clinic and received help from its team of physiotherapists, social workers and other specialists.
“The whole team is really in sync,” she says. “I know I can always reach out and speak to somebody and not too far after I will get an answer, and that feels really comforting.”
There are many misconceptions among the general public about people with PD, according to McIsaac. She was diagnosed at 52, and most people think PD is a disease of people in their 70s or 80s. Many people also aren’t aware of the lesser known symptoms, including loss of smell, depression, anxiety and fatigue.
McIsaac participates in research at The Neuro to help find better treatments for the disease. Currently she’s part of a sleep study with Parkinson’s disease — PD patients often have disrupted sleep patterns.
“I think research is a very important part of the equation and anybody who has time … and the means to participate in studies should do it,” she says. “You never know what can help and it’s good to contribute to perhaps a cure, or at least a better diagnosis.”
While having PD has affected her life negatively in many ways, one bright side to having PD is that it’s given her more free time to spend with her family.
“It has changed my life,” she says. “I’m very grateful to have very understanding family and friends. They take care of me, but you know what, I have much more time now to take care of them, so that’s what I do now.”