Facing the challenges of living with Parkinson disease

Central Alberta resident Kim Harder was diagnosed in 2015

The Sixth Annual Flexxaire Parkinson Step ‘n Stride is right around the corner, slated for Sept. 9th in Red Deer.

It’s an event that local resident Kim Harder will certainly be attending and supporting, having been diagnosed with Parkinson disease in 2013 after experiencing a range of troubling symptoms for several years prior to that.

“I can recall noticing symptoms back to 1999/2000,” he recalls. The first thing he noticed what a loss of his sense of smell. “It’s such a slow, progressive thing – I noticed I couldn’t smell diesel leaks or exhaust,” he remembers, referring to his work at the time for Lacombe County. “It just got worse and worse.

“I remember thinking what is this? Where did this come from?”

Doctor visits began with allergy testing and so forth.

“Then, I started to lose some motor skills. My gait – I carried myself differently. You just think things like, there’s my back again,” he said. “But it’s all part of it, too.”

As time passed, more symptoms surfaced. Tremors began in his right arm and leg.

“It would happen at work in the morning when I’d be sitting there having coffee,” he recalls.

Stress started to build. He started experiencing problems with his balance.

“I noticed I couldn’t do up nuts and bolts at work. I was having trouble doing up buttons, too,” he said, adding that today, the Parkinson’s affects his entire right side.

“Your movements are slower; a lot slower. There is stiffness and rigidity. And irritability – I really noticed that in the later years how irritable I would get, especially at work. I was frustrated. I was so used to doing things without thinking about it, and now I have to think about what to do with that hand.”

In 2011, he had spinal surgery and there was hope that that would ease the ongoing cloud of symptoms.

“I was having trouble with my shoulder and my spine, and my doctor at the time – that’s what we attributed (these symptoms) to. So I had the disc replaced, but after that, the symptoms were getting worse.”

A new doctor launched a series of tests and ultimately a diagnosis was made in the spring of 2013.

“With these neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, there aren’t two cases that are the same. We go to these support groups, and there aren’t two of us the same. Some people are nearly falling off their chairs, they are shaking so hard; some aren’t shaking at all.”

As the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease has no known cause or cure, according to the Parkinson Association of Alberta.

It is a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder characterized by both motor and non-motor symptoms.

Motor symptoms most commonly include resting tremor, muscle rigidity and slowness of motion while non-motor symptoms include (but are not limited to) depression, deterioration of the voice, pain and difficulties sleeping and swallowing.

There are drug- and therapy-based treatments used to control symptoms of PD and slow the progression.

As for the Step ‘n Strike event, which begins at the Golden Circle in Red Deer, registration is at 9 a.m.

The walk kicks off at 10 a.m. Proceeds support the Parkinson Association of Alberta. This year’s goal is to raise $25,000.

“I want to bring more awareness to the public. It’s not a death sentence anymore like it once was; it’s about learning to live with the disease and the symptoms. That’s not easy, because it can also affect your mental state so much. I do struggle with anxiety, depression and stress.”

Harder eventually retired from work later in 2013, and that helped remove ongoing sources of strain to be sure. But it was hard in ways to make the adjustment.

“All of a sudden at 61 years of age you are told that for your own benefit and your own health, maybe you should think about quitting.”

In the meantime, another battle surfaced with the diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2015. Today, it’s in a manageable place following extensive treatments.

These days, part of Harder’s strategy in helping to manage his condition also includes dropping by the Dopamain Gym in Red Deer, which offers a modified boxercise program for Parkinson’s fighters and clients with neurological disorders.

“It’s good for flexibility, strength and balance. We work on all of that – warm-ups, stretching and balance. The punching gets the dopamine working – you feel really good during it and when you are first finished.”

Through it all, it’s striking how positive and relaxed Harder is.

He discusses his health with complete openness and a real desire to build awareness so that others can tap into the sources of help that he has also found over the years, like support groups where access to the latest information is also available and discussed.

“The more information you get, the better it is for you and for your loved ones and caregivers.”

For more about the Step ‘n Stride event, visit http://parkinsonassociation.ca/stepnstride.

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