April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month and April 11 is World Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Day. This year will mark the 17th annual event that commemorates the 259th birthday of Dr. James Parkinson, the English physician who first recognized the disease now named for him.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive degenerative disorder of the central nervous system affecting more than 1.5 million people in the United States. Traditionally, the disease has been characterized by a decrease in spontaneous movement, gait difficulty, postural instability, rigidity and tremor. More recently cognitive issues such as dementia and other non-motor symptoms have been identified to be associated with PD. Parkinson’s disease primarily affects people 60 years old and older, but increasingly is affecting people in their 20s through 50s.

It does not discriminate. Men and women of all races and geographic locations are vulnerable, and as the population ages, neurologists are predicting an explosion in PD incidents.

There are medical and surgical therapies to ease the symptoms, but there is no cure or definitive diagnostic test.

The American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) and the Arkansas Chapter are hard at work helping to "Ease the Burden - Find the Cure." It is a disease that affects many at the Arkansas Chapter personally, living with the disease, or are caregivers.

Founded more than 50 years ago, APDA’s unique dual mission to "Ease the Burden - Find the Cure" works through a national network of Information & Referral (I&R) centers, chapters and support groups, by providing a vast array of community based services and raises funds for ongoing scientific research. The Arkansas I&R center is located at Mercy Hospital in Hot Springs, 501-622-3990.

The local support group was organized in 2000 by Willa and the late Ed Voyles. Bronnie Rose is the group facilitator, and Lydia Stevens of Hot Springs is the state facilitator. The goals of the local chapter are to educate members, caregivers, and the community about PD, provide an open and supportive atmosphere that encourages all attendees to interact, provide up-to-date information, to educate members on resources available, and to make each person aware of his/her own importance and self-worth.

New people are in attendance at almost every monthly meeting, some from as far away as Shirley and Clinton, Ark. Willa Voyles, Jo Ann White, Jan Gruen, and Mrs. Rose call each family a day or two before the meetings to remind them about the upcoming meetings.

The local group will observe Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month with a big celebration at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, at the McGee Center, 3800 College Ave. Up-to-date handouts, prizes, sharing and refreshments are planned for this gathering. The meeting is free and open to anyone interested in learning more about PD.

For more information, call Mrs. Rose at 329-6282 or 501-246-1972.