Putting Laurier on the map for Parkinson’s research

Dozens of red and white balloons were released into the cold wind this afternoon as a symbol of hope to mark World Parkinson’s Day.

Watching the balloons drift upward, the group of about 150 people from the Waterloo Region community affected by Parkinson’s gathered to raise awareness and celebrate the achievements of the Sun Life Financial Movement Disorders Research and Rehabilitation Center (MDRC) at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“Our goal today was to celebrate the link between the Laurier community and all the patients and all the people that support our programs because internationally we’re having quite an impact on what we can do for Parkinson’s,” said Quincy Almeida, director of MDRC.

That impact is only growing. In addition to marking World Parkinson’s Day, it was announced at the event that Almeida has been chosen as the 2012 Early Career Distinguished Scholar by the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA).

Knowing that he had been nominated, Almeida said in an interview with The Cord, “I thought, well it’s very nice to be nominated but who could imagine you could win a North American award.”

“It’s a pat on the back for everyone here,” he added, expressing thanks to the staff and students at MDRC.

Among the Centre’s achievements, Almeida explained that MDRC would be releasing international guidelines for exercise prescription for Parkinson’s patients.

It is for this kind of progress MDRC is making in the study of Parkinson’s that Almeida said put Laurier and Waterloo on the map.

“It’s a huge challenge in the sense that we’ve accomplished what we have without a medical school, without a giant clinical training program here at Laurier and we don’t really have any hospitals that focus on movement disorders, Parkinson’s, neurological disorders here in town,” he explained emphasizing the significance of the work coming out of MDRC and the community support the centre receives.

Shelley Ralf, manager of special events for the Parkinson Society of Southwestern Ontario, who announced Almeida’s latest achievement, added that the announcement provides hope for the many patients who access MDRC.

“Right at the moment there is no cure,” said Ralf about the challenges of living with the disease and also highlighting the concern that by 2016 it is estimated that the current 100,000 cases of Parkinson’s in Canada will double.

The research at MDRC currently focuses on the basic science of understanding Parkinson’s, which translates to new rehabilitation practices to benefit the patients at the centre. However without certainty about the cause of Parkinson’s, treatment options have not reached their full potential. “The things that we have right now in terms of treatment have always been things that mask symptoms — but it’s not treatment and it’s not a cure,” said Almeida.

Looking to the future, the director of MDRC believes that the research focus will shift once a better understanding of the disease is gained and put more emphasis on why the brain creates the impairments associated with Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders.

“I think the only way we’ll get to a cure is if we can actually understand what causes the disorders in the first place.”

For those who stood outside with their balloons, creating the shape of a tulip to commemorate World Parkinson’s Day, the day’s announcements were another sign of hope that the research being done at MDRC will make living with the disease easier.

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