The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

Parkinson’s disease gives woman new lease on life

Rebekah Cilia Sunday, 7 April 2019, 08:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

Rita Atanasio, with her sparkling personality and passion for life, suffers from Parkinson’s disease, just like most of the people in the room that day. As I enter a monthly meeting organised by the Malta Parkinson’s Disease Association, I am impressed by the high turnout of old and young people alike.

I immediately notice Mildred Atanasio, one of the younger people in the crowd, with her cool sense of dress, and later when I meet her later, she turns out to be Rita’s daughter and also her number one supporter.

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Finishing off each other’s sentences, Rita and Mildred tell me how Parkinson’s disease became a part of their life. After a knee replacement, at the age of 62, Rita began noticing a slight tremor in her hand.

Unfortunately, at the time, Rita lost her husband and the tremors became progressively worse. She loved reading romantic novels and when she did, she started noticing that the book was shaking. It was at this point that Mildred and her brother urged their mother to see a neurologist.

A devoted mother and wife, Rita tells me: “The biggest shock was losing my husband. My tremor felt insignificant at that point. As long as it was happening to me and not my children, I was less worried.”

Her son, however, insisted that she had the tremors checked. At this point, Mildred tells me that, like a lot of people, they had a misconception about Parkinson’s disease, thinking it only meant tremors. It was, however, this symptom that made them realise that something could be wrong, although Rita interjected and said that she honestly thought it was due to the loss of her husband.

After consulting a neurologist, Rita was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Her children were devastated. Rita, on the other hand, tells me that she did not take the diagnosis to heart.

She begins to talk about her late husband and, although it has been two years since his death, a steady flow of tears stream down her cheek. Rita is so caring about her family that her disease only worries her when it effects them, telling me: “I honestly forget I have Parkinson’s.”

Being the positive person that she is, Rita not only soldiered on with life but also started attending dancing classes. Step up for Parkinson’s dance therapy classes are organised specifically for those suffering from the disease. Mildred encouraged Rita  to become a member of the Malta Parkinson’s Disease Association and it was at this point that Rita realised that so many other people suffered from the disease.

Although Parkinson’s disease is progressive, keeping yourself active helps relieve some of the symptoms, Mildred explains. She says that the disease can manifest itself differently in different people. Some people, like Rita, may only have tremors but depression, anxiety and slowness of movement are all symptoms associated with it.

“I did not pity myself and for me, life kept on going. I still do all the housework, albeit a bit more slowly. My children give me a lot of courage,” Rita says. At this point, Mildred interrupts and says, with a loving look at her mother, “We take care of her but, in reality, she still takes care of us.”

When I ask them about the future, Mildred tells me she worries a lot because the disease is progressive: “You never know what will come next.” Rita, in typical fashion, tells me that she does not worry, she worries only for her children. 


Malta Parkinson’s Disease Association (MPDA)

MPDA President, Veronica Clark (above), explains that Parkinson’s Disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s and there are currently 1.2 million people living with the disease in Europe. This number is expected to double by 2030, primarily as a result of the ageing population.

The MPDA was founded in 2008 and was the first association in Malta to provide support for people living with Parkinson’s disease, along with their families.

Veronica explains that the aim of the association is to give advice and information regarding the disease to those with Parkinson’s, as well as their carers.

Wednesday, 10 April is World Parkinson’s Day and the Association will be holding a number of activities to help raise awareness about the condition. Veronica says that, throughout the month of April, the Association will be posting informative facts about the disease on their Facebook page daily.

She makes the point that Parkinson’s can affect anyone and although most people who are diagnosed with it are over the age of 60, one in 10 are actually under 50. All the statistics given in this article are according to the European Parkinson’s Association website, www.epda.eu.com.

The Association will also have an information and fund-raising stand at the Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital on Thursday, 11 April between 4pm and 8pm and a members’ meeting will be held on Saturday 13 April, which will include a presentation by a Parkinson’s disease specialist nurse.

 

Donations can be made to MPDA by texting 50618908 to donate €4.66 or 50619296 to donate €11.65. The MPDA can be contacted on [email protected]

 Photos Alenka Falzon

 

 

 

 

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