To 44-year-old Linda Bérard, Parkinson’s disease (PD) was a disease that struck old people, not physically active people like her in the prime of life. It was the tremors in her right leg that initially caught her attention. PD, she was to learn, struck younger people, too.
“I thought I was too young to have PD. We knew about Michael J. Fox but thought he was an exception. We knew of people whose grandfather or grandmother had it, but not people in their forties,” recalls Bérard, now 49, a wife and mother of two.
A family doctor in the Laurentians where Bérard was living directed her to The Neuro where she came under the care of Dr. Edward Fon, a neurologist and world-class researcher in PD.
“He had me do many tests involving walking, dexterity and visual testing. And I also did many neuropsychological tests and magnetic resonance imaging.
In the five years since she first noted her muscle trembling, Bérard’s symptoms have increased in variety and severity.
“Speaking, remembering, moving, these various tasks have become arduous. The muscular aches have increased a lot, along with stiffness."
An office worker who enjoyed cycling, swimming, water skiing and the outdoors, she considers the loss of some of her cognitive ability, not her physical abilities, to be the most disturbing aspect of PD.
“Abruptly I had to stop working, which was a major change in my lifestyle. I’m starting to get over it, but it was very, very difficult to accept.”
Bérard remains as active as possible, and she continues to drive a car.
“I passed the government driving test, though I drive less in the evening because I don’t see as well. And I have someone drive me when I feel as though I’m not in control of myself. That’s a decision I made.”
Twice a year, Bérard has a checkup at The Neuro’s Movement Disorders Clinic, where PD patients are observed and treated not only by physicians but by occupational, speech-language and physical therapists, among other specialized personnel.
Dr. Fon helps her to control her symptoms with the aid of PD drugs.
“Some drugs are more effective at times than others,” says Bérard. “Dr. Fon is constantly making adjustments to the quantity and frequency of my drugs.”
Some PD patients whose symptoms cannot be controlled with drugs are recommended to The Neuro’s PD neurosurgeon, Dr. Abbas Sadikot, who specializes in the use of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). A small electrode device is surgically inserted in the patient’s brain so that it can emit electrical pulses that act to relieve tremors and rigidity. A wire connects this device to a second device that is placed under the skin of the chest to control the level of electrical stimulation. Although not a cure, in some cases DBS can control symptoms significantly.
“Based on my neuropsychological tests, the doctors decided that DBS was not a good solution for me,” says Bérard. “Although I feel much better now, I was facing a major depression, and DBS is not recommended for patients who suffer from emotional distress.”
Bérard however, does benefit from excellent support from her family and network of friends. Furthermore, she and a friend who also has PD took the great initiative to form an organization, Entraidons-nous, that encourages PD patients to get out of the house and move about.