Navigating the shifting impacts of Parkinson’s disease demands a focus and energy that Lacombe resident Kim Harder knows very well.
Having experienced a range of troubling symptoms for a few years, he was diagnosed in 2013.
Parkinson’s is described as a neurodegenerative disease. Movement is normally controlled by dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between the nerves in the brain. When cells that normally produce dopamine die, the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear.
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.
“In about 1999/2000, I had just switched jobs working for Lacombe County,” he explained. “I was getting terrible headaches, and I couldn’t figure out why.”
One day, a co-worker joined him in his truck and immediately noticed a terrible exhaust leak.
“I couldn’t smell it. And that was one of the first indications that something wasn’t right,” he said.
“As the years progressed, it was little things. I’d have tremors in the morning sitting around the coffee room before I’d go out on a shift. Later on, I was having trouble doing up nuts and bolts. And then my balance started giving me trouble — I was starting to get uncomfortable on my feet.
“I was also starting to get weaker. Those were the initial indications that something wasn’t quite right.”
Visits with doctors did take place over the years, and finally, a concrete diagnosis was made in 2013 by Edmonton specialists.
“By that time, I was an emotional wreck as well,” he recalled, noting that so much time had passed with the enduring of a range of symptoms. The stress had taken a toll.
Meanwhile, Harder works consistently on adjusting to the shifting impacts of Parkinson’s. And it can be exhausting. “It affects everyone just a little bit differently.
“I have tremors with my right arm and right leg at times, but the tremors are ‘inside’. It’s hard to explain, but by 4 p.m. in the afternoon, I’m just done. You are physically fighting those tremors all of the time — it’s exhausting. There can be pain in the muscle, so that comes into play, too. It really tires you out.
“I can have some really good days, and then all of a sudden I’ll have a real down day — emotionally as well as physically.”
Medications do help control symptoms.
“Staying active is huge, too.”
Harder also takes part in the Lacombe-based Dopamain Gym Program, which is described as a boxercise program for Parkinson’s fighters.
Boxing makes a tremendous difference, he said. “Sometimes I can hardly get myself out the door, but by the time you are done working out and chatting with the others, you are ready for the day.
“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.”
Golfing is still a favourite activity as well.
Still, a sense of fatigue is almost a constant.
“If I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I’m no good for the whole next day,” he said.
“When I get especially tired, my voice starts getting quieter, and I start to slur some words a little bit more. And I might have trouble finding the words.”
In the meantime, for those who find themselves diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Harder recommends seeking a support group as soon as possible.
“This disease – the first thing it can do is take away your motivation and your drive,” he explained. “It brings you down. So find positive people for sure, and people you can count on to support you.”