Blogging with Parkinson's

A personal perspective on Young Onset Parkinson's


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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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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.

 


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Morality and Parkinson’s

I recently had cause to take a good hard look at my own behaviour, and the way in which I was reacting to other people.

It’s difficult to accept that you might be selfish or careless of other people’s feelings. It’s also far too easy to blame it on an illness – or the drugs used to treat that illness – especially if you are aware that this is a possibility.

Which it is…

In July 2015, a study was published that suggested levadopa (the most prevalent treatment for Parkinson’s, and the key ingredient in the Sinemet that I take) made healthy subjects more selfish. The same study also looked at an antidepressant drug that increased serotonin levels, and that drug was found to make people more caring.

To my mind, the study was based on a simplistic and fairly extreme premise, probably out of necessity – morality is difficult to measure. The study used the choice to deliver a painful but not intolerable electric shock to either oneself or another person (not present in the same room). In both cases, cash could be paid to prevent the shock. The amount that people were prepared to pay to avoid harming themself, and to avoid harming another, was monitored and compared. The findings can be summarised as follows:

  • those whose serotonin levels were increased were willing to pay significantly more to avoid harm to another than to avoid harming themselves
  • those whose brain chemistry was unchanged (because they took a placebo) would still pay more to avoid harm to others, but not as much as the increased-serotonin group
  • those whose dopamine levels were increased paid equal amounts to avoid harm to others and to avoid harm to themselves

I would like to think that, even with levadopa, my judgement would err towards the altruistic avoidance of harm to another. And perhaps it would – the results were, after all, averages. However, I have never, to my recollection, found myself in that sort of situation.

But what if the situation was more subtle? If it were more a matter of insensitivity, not paying full attention to what others were doing, increased focus on the self? If it were a matter of taking opportunities without paying heed to the limited nature of the opportunities and to other’s desires to take the same opportunities? I think I have been guilty of these things. I’m not sure that it is entirely down to drugs, either; at least some of it is inherent in my personality (I know that I am quite good at some things, and I also know that I can come across as patronising or condescending as a result of the first knowing without meaning to; I try to guard against this tendency, but I do not always succeed). At least some of it must be due to Parkinson’s itself – the difficulties in doing things that didn’t ought to be difficult, that didn’t used to be difficult, and the self-awareness that comes with the process of constant adjustment (because the effects of Parkinson’s vary from day to day, from hour to hour, and gradually become more frustrating over weeks and months). And another part, again, is a result of the knowledge that, because I have Parkinson’s, my timescales are reduced.

Interestingly, I have recently started taking an antidepressant called mirtazapine. This is not the same drug that was used in the study (that was citalopram); it is described as “an atypical antidepressant” because it only targets one type of serotonin receptor in the brain. But it does still increase serotonin levels.

I take mirtazapine to counteract the excessive wakefulness that sinemet causes (that is, it helps me sleep). Might it also go some way to counteract the apparent selfishness that sinemet causes?


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Podiatry Again: Custom Insoles…

It’s a while since I last wrote about podiatric attempts to alleviate my foot dystonia; in fact, I didn’t write much about the last couple of visits at all. At the end of last year, I went to see a podiatrist again. He took an imprint of my feet and ordered me some custom insoles, which arrived in February:

Custom insoles with metatarsal bump

Custom insoles with metatarsal dome

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Working with Parkinson’s (part 2)

I’ve been working full time for almost 9 months now, and, you know what? It isn’t all that bad. I’d still prefer to be part time, but that has far more to do with having young children and a busy life (not to mention the burgeoning artistic career, of course) than it does with my medical condition.

I can still do my desk job perfectly well. I might get a bit stiff sometimes, but a brisk walk down the corridor to fetch a drink usually sorts that out. And I do feel a whole lot better if I get out for some fresh air and a bit of exercise at lunch time, but that probably applies to everybody, to some extent. I still ride my bike, and it comes in jolly handy at times, too. My dexterity has been largely restored by the ropinirole, but any thoughts I might have had of touch-typing properly with both hands have been dashed to pieces. Not that I could ever touch-type, mind. It’s just that the left hand wouldn’t be able to keep up.

It seems that the drugs do work. Mostly.

Of course, they’ll need adjusting now and then, and eventually things will change and no doubt strange little things will occur. But Parkinson’s is generally slowly progressive, and I’m still holding on to the idea that I (probably) get a good ten years out of levadopa. Which I haven’t started yet.

Oh, and my consultant is happy; she’s extended the interval between appointments to 9 months rather than 6. I’m sure that it’s not just a cost-cutting measure.