SOUTHLAND MS Society is holding an Awareness Week from Saturday to November 4 to promote awareness of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s Disease in the community.
Southland MS Society field worker Sarah Rogers said the non-profit organisation provided support, information and advocacy for people with these conditions.
Invercargill woman Mary McGowan, who was diagnosed with MS in 1982, said the Southland MS Society had helped her a lot throughout the years and was a worthy cause.
Miss McGowan, who emigrated from Scotland 47 years ago, was working as a registered nurse at the former Kew Hospital in Invercargill when she was diagnosed at the age of 33, she said.
At first she had seizures and blackouts and did not know what was happening, she said.
“They thought I was an epileptic at first.”
She remembers walking alone to the library one afternoon and having to hold on to a wall because she was losing her balance.
“People thought I was drunk.”
When the MS diagnosis was confirmed, a fellow Scot and doctor at the hospital, neurologist Andrew McPhee, told her she may not have ended up with the condition had she gone to nurse somewhere sunny such as India or Africa. The condition was known to be related to a lack of vitamin D, which the body absorbed from sunlight, she said.
“So now I get out in the sun as much as I can.”
Miss McGowan’s MS got progressively worse and in 2001 she had to go into a care home.
However, she now had a mobility chair and despite bouts of extreme tiredness she enjoyed an active social life thanks to support from the Nurse’s Memorial Fund and the Southland MS Society, she said.
Ms Rogers said about two-thirds of the people the organisation supported had MS, while about a third had Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s was a progressive neurodegenerative condition caused by a breakdown of dopamine, a chemical in the brain which enabled quick, well co-ordinated movements.
Ms Rogers said Parkinson’s was characterised by a combination of symptoms which could include tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement, depression, anxiety or apathy, sleep disturbance, fatigue, constipation, trouble swallowing or speaking, skin sensations and pain and a lack of sense of smell.
Managing Parkinson’s was tailored to the individual and included keeping well and active and taking medications.
Invercargill man Bill Gibb, 70, said he was running his own building company when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 44.
The illness did not prevent him working for another 11 years before he was told he could no longer climb ladders.
Mr Gibb, who takes medication every two hours, had life-changing brain surgery in 2002, he said.
“They froze the thalamus, part of it, to stop the shakes. People used to think I was waving at them.”
These days he keeps busy tinkering with cars.
“I think you’ve got to keep positive. Movement is important – walking, exercise and projects, keeping busy even if it’s just a jigsaw or restoring cars.”
Ms Rogers said Parkinson’s was relatively common – about one in every 500 people had the condition, and it became more common with older age groups.
One in every 1000 New Zealanders had MS, she said.
To help Southlanders living with progressive neurological conditions, like Miss McGowan and Mr Gibb, look out for Southland MS Society displays and donation collection points installed at local supermarkets throughout the week.