Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Empathy please for Parkinson's sufferers

It is an astounding fact that it has been almost half-a-century since the last major breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson's (stock photo)
It is an astounding fact that it has been almost half-a-century since the last major breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson's (stock photo)

Editor's Viewpoint

Parkinson's disease is a dreadful degenerative condition that can leave sufferers with slurred speech, shaking hands, stiffness and slowness of movement. It is a cruel disease which can see people's personality begin to fracture and slip away.

But it is the reaction to it from other people that is astonishing. An incredible 91% of people with Parkinson's said they felt harassed and discriminated against in a new report.

Comments range from people saying sufferers don't look ill, to querying why they are using disabled parking spaces, or that they are unfriendly because of their unsmiling expression, a symptom of the disease.

It is not that the condition is rare. An estimated 3,700 people in Northern Ireland have Parkinson's with another nine diagnosed each week on average. It is the second most common neurodegenerative condition after Alzheimer's. Given that frequency, it is difficult to understand how people can be apparently so cold towards those with the disease.

Little wonder sufferers feel they are the brunt of unacceptable behaviour without anyone to take their part.

In almost any other sector of society, if such a sizeable number of people claimed discrimination and harassment, they would be assisted by a government agency or a charity to seek redress.

While the comments made could never meet the legal definition of a hate crime, to those who have to bear them they are every bit as hurtful.

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It is difficult to curb unthinking comments, but on this World Parkinson's Day, each of us should be determined to show greater sympathy for people with the disease. We need to assure them that not everyone is guilty of boorish behaviour.

It is an astounding fact that it has been almost half-a-century since the last major breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson's.

Evidently there is a great need for more research into the causes and potential new treatments, and that depends on greater funding.

Currently many of those who have the disease rely on money raised by the public for advice and support. Parkinson's is a largely misunderstood condition, meaning that people living with it struggle to access the support, medication and assistance they need.

A number of fundraising opportunities are coming up in the next few months and they deserve support to show sufferers they are not alone.

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