Blogging with Parkinson's

A personal perspective on Young Onset Parkinson's


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In a spin

Around a week ago (obviously when I wasn’t paying attention), there was a flurry of media attention over a “simple drawing test” that might detect Parkinson’s early. The test uses a large (A3) digital tablet and pen to measure the speed and pressure with which the subject completes a spiral indicated with dots on a paper overlay. A person with Parkinson’s is likely to be slower and to apply less pressure.

According to the Telegraph:

Scientists already knew that symptoms that appear early in the disease can interfere with a person’s ability to write or sketch.

I can’t say I have noticed that, personally. But it would probably depend on a number of factors, including the patient’s handedness and which side is primarily affected by the Parkinson’s. I think that how someone tends to use drawing and writing materials might be important, too; I understand that creativity uses a different part of the brain to more mundane activties, and so people’s associations with pen use might vary.

The Telegraph article continues:

A spiral is considered a sound test because, unlike writing words, the quality is less likely to be influenced by a patient’s education.

Unless, say, they are an artist? I wonder if the researchers took that sort of possibility into account.

It should be added that the research was conducted using a small sample: 55 people (27 diagnosed with Parkinson’s, 28 not), all in their sixties and seventies. With a cohort that size, it makes no sense to include younger sufferers, and perhaps artists, calligraphers and draughtspeople were similarly excluded, not to mention fountain pen users (who will be less likely to press hard than those who use ballpoint pens).

Anyway. It seems pointless for me to comment further on this without actually trying to replicate the test (as illustrated in the BBC’s article and in the research journals own blog, but without the technology and on A4 paper).

I have software that will draw a neat, accurate spiral in a dotted line, and I have traditional drawing materials that are pressure sensitive (I wavered over extreme dip pens but they are sensitive to direction and would need several dips in the ink pot to get around the whole spiral, so in the end I decided on the humble graphite pencil in a generous 6B flavour). It seemed to me that this would give me the basic feel of the test.

Here is my spiral:

For the record, I started in the middle (I always draw spirals from the centre out) and I didn’t worry about hitting every dot – I was aiming for a smooth curve. It was, I think,  a confident and reasonably rapid line, despite the fact that my left hand was a bit jittery at the time (I’m right-handed and I was drawing with my right hand).

I was fully aware of the pressure and speed measurements that might be taken if the test was for real, and of my own scepticism about the suggestion that this might be some absolute test (my scepticism is based in part on not wanting to lose my abilities and confidence in drawing). I do wonder if the knowledge (combined with the doubt) might somehow invalidate the test…

 

The research paper was published in Frontiers of Neurology by a team from RMIT University in Melborne, Australia. It is  based on previous work that has already established drawing a spiral as a test for Parkinson’s; this new study is about the tehnology that can be used to automate the test analysis, instead of relying on an expert humann observer.

 


Note: The press seemed happy to report that the device used in the test was a “tablet computer”. The illustrated device looks more like a peripheral to a computer – an input device, such as the Wacom Intuos. It doesn’t really matter, of course; it should be possible to administer the test on any tablet computer or a computer interface tablet that has the requisite sensitivity.

Also, and perhaps of much greater import, the press are reporting that early diagnosis is important because it allows for “preventative” treatment to be administered sooner. As far as I am aware, there is no proven preventative treatment; what we have at the current time may slow progression, but even that is uncertain. The BBC even state, in a picture caption, that “ Treatment options are effective only when the disease is diagnosed early “, which I am certain is not true.

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Could it really be so simple?

My problems with sleep have been going on for more than two years, but they seemed to get significantly worse at the end of last year (2016), when I stopped taking Ropinirole. I had thought that the lack of Ropinirole might be the cause; my consultant had said that it could cause hyperactivity, which I thought might have been masking the effects of poor sleep, allowing me to run on empty …

But now I have a new theory. A very simple one: I was undermedicated. And I’m amazed that it took me this long to figure it out.

In June, I was bitten by an insect and had an impressive (but not dangerous) allergic reaction to the bite. More seriously, the bite became infected and I ended up in hospital overnight on intraveneous antibiotics. The time in hospital was a pause, a break from normal life: a time to think. I realised that I needed to do something about my sleep. I decided to try over the counter medication (with advice from my GP and pharmacist).  Unfortunately, it didn’t work (I think mainly because my problem was not going to sleep in the first instance, but staying asleep).

I also got in touch with my Parkinson’s nurse specialist and asked for help.  She wanted me to speak to the consultant, but that wasn’t possible at the time (I now have an appointment for September).

It felt like I was unavoidably on my own, at least for the duration of the summer holidays.

After struggling through a nasty cold that was all the nastier (or so I presume) for my poor sleep, it suddenly occurred to me to try adding an extra Sinemet CR tablet into my day.

Sinemet CR is a controlled release form of Sinemet, a widely-prescribed levodopa vehicle that contains 50mg caridopa as well as 200mg levodopa. It is currently my main anti-Parkinson’s drug. I also take 1mg Rasagiline (Azilect) daily for its supposed protective function, and have a supply of Sinemet Plus (half the dose of the CR, but potentially faster acting because it isn’t controlled release) that I use as a sort of boost to the CR.

I was taking four CR daily, starting at 7 am and finishing at 8:30 pm. I would go to bed and wake in the wee small hours, typically between 3 and 4:30 am. If I went to bed late, I would often wake earlier. Going back to sleep was difficult. Often I would start to notice my Parkinson’s symptoms getting more prevalent as I got more and more impatient with being awake; I tried taking Sinemet Plus, and it seemed to help, often giving me another two hours of sleep, about an hour after taking it.  It wasn’t reliable, but it was the only thing that seemed to have any effect at all. This was one of the reasons that I decided to try a new regime.

I am now taking five CR daily, starting at 7am and finishing at 11pm. They are a little closer together.

It has only been a few days – six, to be precise – but the effect was apparent the first night and has remained constant: I sleep longer (I’ve been waking at 6am). I feel better during the day. I have not needed to “boost” myself with Sinemet Plus so much. I am still, I think, recovering (from the cold as well as from prolonged lack of sleep), but things are definitely looking better.

I have also noticed that, when my sleep was interrupted in the early hours, I invaribly woke in the same position that I had gone to sleep in. I don’t know if that is, or was, “normal” for me or not – I had never scrutinised my sleep that closely before. But a couple of times over the last week, I have woken in a different position – both times on my back, instead of on my right hand side. One of those awakenings was in the middle of the night. I woke enough to register it, and to turn onto my side, and then… I went back to sleep.

 


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Fatigue

I think I am suffering from fatigue.

Fatigue in Parkinson’s is an acknowledged “non-motor” symptom (that is, it is not a visible sign of motor impairment such as tremor or slowness). However, it is not necessarily as well understood as some non-motor symptoms, not least because it has an assortment of possible causes.

Fatigue is a common symptom of depression, and depression is a common symptom of Parkinson’s. But that doesn’t mean that fatigue in Parkinson’s is due to depression and in my case, I’m pretty certain that it isn’t. I don’t feel depressed.

Just as depression is more than feeling down in the dumps, more than a temporary period of pessimism, fatigue is more than just being tired or sleepy. It’s difficult to describe either difference (as I perceive them) except to say that there is a different quality, an intensity of experience in both cases. I have only skirted the edge of depression once, and that was some yeas ago, but I got close enough to recognise it as something other. What I feel now is not that, but it has the same desperate overwhelming type of effect and it is purely to do with feeling tired, sleepy or weary.

I think that at least part of the cause, for me, is my recent change of medication. My consultant suggested to me that ropinirole can instil a form of hyperactivity (which I think may have buoyed me through previous shortages of sleep) and that coming off ropinirole (as I just have done) can result in a period of sleep problems and consequent tiredness.

Sleep at night is a problem, although it’s not as bad as it has been. I go to sleep reasonably well, and at a reasonable hour, but I often wake at 4 in the morning. Most nights (usually after visiting the bathroom) I can get back to sleep for a couple of hours. I’m not often overly troubled by Parkinsonian tremors or rigidity at these times, which seems to indicate that I’ve more or less got the levels of controlled release Sinemet right.

And my difficulties sleeping don’t just affect me. My husband is a light sleeper and I have inadvertently woken him or disturbed his sleep on countless occasions.

General weariness combined with sudden, intense increases of tiredness during the day are a big problem. These are the main reasons I think that I am fatigued rather than tired-because-I-didn’t-sleep-well.

Curiously, I can sleep for up to two hours if I allow myself to when I feel this intense tiredness. I can also ignore it and eventually it dulls, or push through it by doing something physical, but neither of those are easy. I can’t nap unless I’m in that period of intense tiredness (I’ve never been able to nap in the past), and it’s not every day that it’s convenient or possible to nap when my body tells me it needs to sleep. It’s a bit difficult to collect children from school at 3:20 if you let yourself go to sleep in the early afternoon.

I don’t feel right napping in the day. I do feel better after a two hour nap, but not for long, and I’m concerned that it might be adversely affecting my sleep that night.

So I had a bit of a hunt around on the Internet to see what I might be able to do. Advice from Parkinson’s UK and the Michael J Fox Foundation (two organisations that I trust) points very strongly in one direction:

I need to exercise more.

 

References:

Parkinson’s UK Information sheet
https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/content/fatigue-and-parkinsons-information-sheet

Michael J Fox Foundation on Fatigue: “Why can’t I seem to get anything done?”
https://www.michaeljfox.org/understanding-parkinsons/living-with-pd/topic.php?fatigue

Michael J Fox Foundation on Fatigue: 7 ways to help fatigue
https://www.michaeljfox.org/foundation/news-detail.php?ways-to-help-fatigue-in-parkinson-disease

2009 articleby Jonathon H. Friedman MD (noting the doctor’s clinical responses to fatigue in Parkinson’s) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19364453

2005 article by Jonathon H. Friedman MD (summary of what fatigue in Parkinson’s is) https://www.apdaparkinson.org/uploads/files/Fatigue-8-25-vj8.pdf


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Downside

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas

[This post relates to my last-but-one post, “Don’t it always seem to be…”]

I spoke to my consultant. Apparently this tiredness could be part of the withdrawal from Ropinirole, which can  make you “a bit hyperactive”. I think that’s what she said (I think I was, at times). But she also said that it will pass, and that I will reach an equilibrium.

And I’m going to try a modified release Sinemet, which should help to even out what they call the “on” and “off” states.

I refuse to stay down here for long. I’m looking for the UP escalator. Anybody know where it is?

 


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Mervyn Peake winning entry shortlisted for Artist of the Year competition

This is a cross-post from my art blog. It’s relevant here because the painting that got me shortlisted was orignally inspired by the Mervyn Peake Awards (Parkinson’s UK) theme, “Inspire”. I’m also posting it here because you can help me – there is a Reader’s Choice vote online and I’m told that it is hotly contested and I should ask all of my friends and acquaintances to vote for me.

The UK magazine Artists and Illustrators runs an annual artist of the year competition. I entered it and was delighted to hear that the judges had shortlisted my  Shelves of Inspiration. There are 50 artists on the shortlist, and all of the pieces will be on display 23 – 28 Janaury 2017 at the Mall Galleries, London.

Part of the competition is a Reader’s Choice vote. If you want to vote, you can see the whole shortlist here:

If you know that you want to vote for me, click here.


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Don’t it always seem to be…

You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.

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Joni Mitchell’s song, drawn in a sketchbook by me in 2014

I’m really missing sleep. I used to sleep very heavily (it’d take me a while to get there sometimes, but I didn’t used to wake up worth noticing before I had to, and even then I was very good at sleeping through alarms). Now I wake up in the wee small hours and I can’t get back to sleep.

It isn’t as bad as is has been, but it’s still not great. Last year, when I started taking Sinemet, I was waking up at 3am on a regular basis. Tired but not sleepy.

My consultant supposed that it might be an interaction between the two drugs, Sinemet and Ropinirole. You need to be careful coming off Ropinirole, as with all dopamine agonists, and do it gradually. There are horror stories of eternal depression as a result of DAWS (Dopamine Agonist Withdrawal Syndrome); it seems to be a greater risk if you experienced a severe impulse control disorder as a result of taking the dopamine agonist. I’m very glad to say that my artistic impulse was not unduly increased by the Ropinirole I was taking (coincidence of timing might have made it seem so from the outside) and that I have not had any trouble coming off Ropinirole.

The Ropinirole is gone. I’m not taking it any more. It’s been gone for three or four weeks and I don’t miss it.

But I do miss that sleep. Like I say, it’s not as bad as it was. It’s usually 5am that I wake up at at the moment. And when I do wake up, it’s blatantly obvious what’s wrong – my muscles are stiff and I’m shaking and it’s really uncomfortable. My medication has worn off. I know that I need to get up in around two hours and so taking a “bedtime” medication isn’t a good idea. I can either get up and start my day early (and slowly), or I can try and tough it out without fidgeting too much (my husband is a light sleeper and is also suffering from my lack of sleep).

I think it’s time to talk to the consultant again.