World Parkinson Congress Day 3 – WPC2019 | 13

When Life Gives You Parkinson’s

World Parkinson Congress Day 3 – WPC2019 | 13

I am in Kyoto, Japan for the 5th World Parkinson Congress (WPC). WPC is a global Parkinson's event, which is held every three years and it opens its doors to…
June 6, 2019

World Parkinson Congress Day 3 – WPC2019 | 13

I am in Kyoto, Japan for the 5th World Parkinson Congress (WPC). WPC is a global Parkinson’s event, which is held every three years and it opens its doors to all members of the Parkinson’s community, from neurologists and researchers to those living with the disease.   

Parkinson’s has often been described as an old, white man’s disease. The truth is Parkinson’s is not that exclusive of a club. In fact, three things are very clear in Kyoto as the WPC wraps up day three: young people, women and people of all colours are being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

During a roundtable discussion on this episode of the podcast, Jim Smerdon, a person with Parkinson’s from Vancouver, B.C., noticed how indiscriminate PD is on the first day. “My question to all of these researchers, and I’ve yet to receive a decent answer, is what does it mean to them that when you looked around at the opening ceremonies and there is such a diversity. This disease covers every ethnicity, every geography, every demographic, every age core, and almost appears equally.”  

A perfect example of just how diverse people with Parkinson’s can be. One of Omotola Thomas’ doctors in South Africa told her, “I think you have a form of Parkinsonism, but it’s hard for me to diagnose you with it because you are a young, black, female and this is an old, white man’s disease.” Thomas was born and raised in Nigeria. She lived in the United States, South Africa and now the United Kingdom. She began to have symptoms while in America at the age of 29. They took blood and ran every test they could think of, but because she the opposite of old, white and male Parkinson’s wasn’t initially considered. It took six years, seemingly endless tests, a move to South Africa and then to the U.K., before she was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease (YOPD) at the age of 35.  

The time has come for a new narrative around Parkinson’s. Perhaps it could begin with an update to the old, white man sketched by neurologist Sir William Richard Gowers in 1886 to illustrate some physical symptoms of PD. It appears in Wikipedia and anytime anyone Google’s Parkinson’s disease. Another suggestion, which was a Hot Topic in the morning session, is to begin to address the needs and differences that exist between woman and men with Parkinson’s. Thomas, and women like her, have a different Parkinson’s experience. For instance, their Levodopa-Carbidopa to control Parkinson’s symptoms only works about three weeks out of every four. “Men don’t tend to suffer the same hormonal fluctuations that we do. We have certain times of the month where our medications don’t work at all. And that is very difficult to deal with.” Thomas adds, “I don’t think that’s something you experience.” She’s right. I don’t.

The frustrations concerning the old, white, male stereotypes are real. Treating PD the same way, with the same drugs, no matter your gender, age or ethnicity – let alone your dominate symptoms – leads to delayed diagnosis and to prescribing inadequate pharmaceuticals. A 2019 attitude and individualized approach to each person’s Parkinson’s is desperately needed. And the whispers of past WPC’s are becoming a roar that the PD community will soon be unable to ignore any longer. 

Also on this episode, kids and care partners play a prominent role in the topics and discussions at World Parkinson Congress. 

Follow me, Larry Gifford 

Twitter: @ParkinsonsPod


Instagram: @parkinsonspodirt

For more info on the World Parkinson Congress head to


Twitter: @WorldPDCongress

YouTube: WorldPDcongress

Instagram: @worldpdcongress

Thank you to:

Omotola Thomas, person with Parkinson’s from United Kingdom

Jim Smerdon, person with Parkinson’s from Vancouver, B.C.

Andy McDowell, person with Parkinson’s from Auckland, New Zealand

Lily & Pearl McDowell, children of Andy

Ardrew Davenport, Board Member, Parkinson Society of British Columbia

Rebecca Gifford, partner in Parkinson’s from Vancouver, British Columbia

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