Future Looking Up for Parkinson's Patients

Twelve years, lots of pills and one major surgery since his diagnosis with Parkinson's Disease, Rob Peppers refuses to give up hope. He says while it is a frustrating disease in many ways, he believes the overall picture down the road is bright.

Experts agree.

"There is a lot of fear," says Cotton-O'Neil Neurologist Dr. Ernie Swanson. "But for the vast majority of people, there are a lot of options, those options are improving year by year and the long-term prognosis is good."

Swanson says some of the biggest advances are in new medications. The neurotransmitter dopamine is reduced in Parkinsons patients. The newer meds act on the brain in a way that more closely mimics what dopamine would do naturally. Swanson says the more that can be done, "the more we can delay the process and reduce side effects people have."

The other challenge comes in diagnosing Parkinsons. Swanson says new tests have been developed to help doctors catch it earlier. He says many times, when patients are diagnosed, there are already changes in the brain. He says that means doctors are seeing a process that's already been going on for five or six years. He says the earlier Parkinsons can be diagnosed, the earlier treatment can start treatment and the better patients will do.

Of course, being aware of a disease is the first step in battling it. On that front, Swanson agrees Rob has made a difference.

"His position, his recognition, has meant a lot to a lot of people both with Parkinsons disease and without it," he said. "He's had a huge impact on people being aware of Parkinsons in Kansas."

But Rob says it's the people who've had the bigger impact on him.

"I'm just me trying to live my life," Rob says. "A lot of people are suffering a lot more than me. I feel I represent them when I'm on camera."

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