Parkinson’s disease highlighted during Brain Awareness Week

Claudia Fanning of Grand Junction isn’t like most people in the Parkinson’s disease support group she sometimes attends.

At 51, she estimates she’s about 30 years younger than most members. And as a person recently diagnosed with the United States’ second-most common neurological disorder, her progression into Parkinson’s is far behind many members of the group.

Fanning is one example of how Parkinson’s can affect any adult. Although 60 is the average age a person begins showing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, people as young as 18 have been diagnosed with it. Symptoms of the disease — brain cells are damaged and do not produce enough dopamine to support fluid movements — can vary but may include shaking, stiffness, slowed movement and balance trouble.

Fanning was aware of Parkinson’s and watched her father and uncle struggle with it. Genetics are one of the risk factors for Parkinson’s, but she never imagined she would be diagnosed with it at such a young age. Her right hand shakes, and she has word-retrieval problems, so her doctor tried placing her on a Parkinson’s medication, which helped. Now Fanning is working on other ways to help slow the progression of the disease, including exercise.

“Most people are diagnosed when 80 percent of their brain is already dead. I’m trying to save the brain I have left,” she said.

Fanning and others want to share their stories and alert people to the various symptoms of Parkinson’s by calling attention to March 12–16 being Brain Awareness Week and April being Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Mary Searson, who leads the local Parkinson’s disease support group that meets from 3:30 to 5 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at First Christian Church, said Parkinson’s affects at least 1 million Americans but gets little attention compared to some health issues.

Searson, a retired licensed practical nurse, said she struggled to find information about Parkinson’s on the Western Slope, so she searched for information on the Internet. She also gets tips from the other 23 people in the support group and talks to a local neurologist. She is looking forward to a movement-disorder specialist moving to Grand Junction this August.

There is no definitive test or treatment for Parkinson’s disease, and there is no cure. Searson was diagnosed through movement tests and her response to medication, and now she has a deep brain implant to help with her condition. She said the period before her diagnosis in 2007 was “kind of scary” and “the last thing on my mind.” She said it’s a common misconception that only shaking is associated with Parkinson’s disease.

“Nobody’s symptoms are the same. Most of the shakiness is caused by the medication” to treat stiffness, Searson said.

A list of symptoms and treatment options are available at, and Coloradans can find information about caregivers and other resources at

Dr. Rajeev Kumar, an Englewood neurologist, will speak for free about new Parkinson’s research and therapies from 4 to 5 p.m. March 19 at the DoubleTree Hotel, 743 Horizon Drive.


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