'It's not life or death, I just shake a bit': Young and living with Parkinson's

April 11, 2019

You would be forgiven for thinking Parkinson’s is a disease that affects only older people.

But it can affect people in their 30s and 40s.

Kim Dahler from Port Macquarie on the New South Wales mid-north coast was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s in 2013. She was in her mid 40s.

“There’s a lot of people in the same position and because the symptoms are gradual you don’t seem to notice as much.”

Kim Dahler at a table with her brother and mother.Kim Dahler at a table with her brother and mother.
Kim Dahler with her brother, Mark Baker and mother, Robyn Baker.(Supplied: Kim Dahler)

She said it took her quite a while to get diagnosed, but during that time she did a lot of research and had a fair idea she had Parkinson’s.

“It took a journey of about 12 months to get the diagnosis and it took me a little while to come to terms with it, I’m not sure why, the stigma, the embarrassment, I’m not sure,” Ms Dahler said.

“I put my head in the sand a bit I think, and just worked.”

Living positively with Parkinson’s

A group pf people wearing a Parkinson's disease awareness t-shirt.A group pf people wearing a Parkinson's disease awareness t-shirt.
Kim Dahler designed a t-shirt to help raise awareness about Parkinson’s disease.(Supplied: Kim Dahler)

Ms Dahler said since her initial diagnosis she had turned her attitude around and was focussing on the positives, still working full-time in a demanding job and travelling.

She is also trying to increase the community’s understanding about Parkinson’s by telling her story and offering support to others.

“I’m out the other end now and I want to speak up and say it’s not the end of the world,” she said.

“I work full-time, I have to be a little bit careful with my movements, but life goes on.

Kim Dahler with a work colleague.Kim Dahler with a work colleague.
Kim Dahler still works full-time, seen here at a Taree event, and said she received a lot of support.(Supplied: Kim Dahler)

“I get a lot of support from my employer, so I am very fortunate.

“It’s a balancing act as well, if I do a big drive I will stay in a branch for a day just to balance my health, I have to be sensible and keep it manageable.”

Seeing the lighter side can also help.

Ms Dahler has also designed a light-hearted t-shirt featuring the slogan, ‘I haven’t got the DTs [delerium tremens caused by withdrawal from alcohol], it’s just Parkinson’s’.

Don’t be afraid to ask for support

Gregg Faulkner is President of the Port Macquarie Parkinson's Support GroupGregg Faulkner is President of the Port Macquarie Parkinson's Support Group
Gregg Faulkner is President of the Port Macquarie Parkinson’s Support Group and said talking to others was important.(Supplied: Gregg Faulkner)

Ms Dahler said when she was first diagnosed she did not ask for help, but probably should have, and is now involved in a support group.

Port Macquarie Parkinson’s Support group president, Gregg Faulkner, said it was important people reached out for help.

“We have monthly meetings and the most important part is the morning tea,” he said.

“It’s a disease which has a fairly simply cause — there are a few cells in the brain that don’t produce enough dopamine.

“But the end result of that is physical, psychological, emotional, all manner of changes and it’s a complex web of symptoms.

“I was diagnosed eight years ago, I’m doing pretty well, my voice sometimes lapses, but I’m still president of the local support group, which is growing like crazy, which is a mixed blessing.

What is Parkinson’s?

According to national peak body, Parkinson’s Australia, there are more than 80,000 Australians living with Parkinson’s and around 20 per cent are of working age, with many diagnosed in their 30s and 40s.

Parkinson’s is a progressive, chronic neurological condition which affects the nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, which is particularly important in controlling movement.

Symptoms, which can include muscle rigidity, tremors, and changes in speech and gait, generally develop slowly over years and vary from one person to another.

After diagnosis, treatments can help relieve symptoms, but there is no cure.

Woman holding a Parkinson's t-shirt.Woman holding a Parkinson's t-shirt.
Kim Dahler has created a t-shirt to raise awareness and find some humour. On the back it says, ‘I just have Parkinson’s’.(Supplied: Kim Dahler)

Ms Dahler said treatments were always evolving.

“It’s changing all the time, each time you are told to have more dosage, or less dosage, change your medication if you’re getting symptoms,” she said.

April 11 is World Parkinson’s Day, aiming to raise awareness and money for research.

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