Body & Mind

Living with Parkinson’s Disease

Written By: Susan Stepp

Ten years ago, Eric Snider, an Anderson native, was driving down the road and happened to look at his hands on the steering wheel. What he noticed concerned him. Although his hands didn’t feel any different than usual, he could see that his hands were shaking, or “tremoring.” Snider is a man of science with advanced degrees in Chemical Engineering, so it was natural for him to do his own research into this symptom. After significant reading from medical research journals, he concluded that his symptoms likely indicated an early stage of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). He saw his doctor, who confirmed the diagnosis and referred him to a Neurologist with a specialty in Motion Disorders at St Francis Bon Secours in Greenville. 

PD is an irreversible neurodegenerative disease. Its progression through the body can’t be halted and currently, there is no cure. Major research programs are underway at numerous hospitals and universities to develop a cure. Significant progress is being made regularly in new therapies and treatments. 

Unfortunately, this disease is getting more common. PD is now one of the leading causes of neurological problems in the world. The incidence of diagnosed cases has increased markedly over the past ten years. It is most often found in people aged 63 and up, but it can develop in people as young as their thirties. The longer you live, the further it develops. 

It is unknown what specifically causes PD but there are environmental and genetic causes. Environmental factors include extended exposure to certain chemicals including weed killers containing Paraquat, and Agent Orange as well as solvents such as PERC and TCE. Snider theorizes that his exposure to a chemical called PERC used in the dry-cleaning process was a likely source of environmental exposure for him. As a high-school student, he worked five days a week every summer for several years in a dry cleaning business that used PERC exclusively as the cleaning agent. At that time, the toxic effects of PERC were not well known. Later, as a chemistry major in college, he was exposed to a wide range of chemicals that further complicated his exposure levels. 

PD can run in families. This genetic connection can be traced through one or more genes that indicate the owner of those genes has a higher-than-normal likelihood of developing PD. In Snider’s case, tests indicated there was no genetic connection and no other family members with a positive PD diagnosis. 

Recently, a blood test for PD was released. Before this test, diagnosis was made based on the number and severity of recognized symptoms. Early detection using this test will allow other therapies to start early.

PD impacts the entire neurological profile. Symptoms cover the gamut from partial to complete loss of smell and taste, tremors over much of the body, especially hands, restricted or “stiff” movements, which also increases the likelihood of falls, low blood pressure, which can lead to fainting, and falls, changes in vision, and alterations to the digestive system. Any part of the body that contains nerve endings and transmits electrical impulses can be subject to PD.       

The rule of thumb is if symptoms start, they do not improve over time but in Snider’s case, with early treatment, his hand tremors have completely disappeared. He does have to take multiple medications for low blood pressure, and stiffness in all his joints would be a daily problem if he were off his daily medications. 

There are non-profit support groups for people with PD in every part of the country. Locally, Greenville Area Parkinson’s Society (GAPS), supports people in the upstate including Greenville, Anderson, Pickens, and Oconee counties. Snider has found GAPS to be a valuable source of both information and camaraderie with other people facing this disease, their families, and caregivers. Snider has been mentored by others from the start and now serves as a mentor for others who are beginning their journey with PD. 

During the month of April GAPS sponsored a “Walk for Parkinson’s” event to raise funds to support their many programs. Held at Conestee Park in Greenville, more than 150 people attended and the group has raised $91,000 so far toward their goal of $100,000. Donations are still being received. These funds will be used to support monthly seminars that will give access to people with PD throughout the Upstate to hear expert speakers, local doctors doing research, vendors with new technology, and information on organizing the mentorship program. 

The most important thing that Snider has learned about living with PD, is that keeping a positive attitude is a must. If you have PD, you must have something to do, someplace to go, or someone to help with a chore every day. The other tip is exercise. Exercise is the only prescription known to slow the progression of PD. Snider feels very positive that with the spread of the disease, the extensive research underway, and new laboratory technologies, a cure will emerge within the next ten years. That won’t be one day too soon for all those with this mysterious ailment.