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My Parkinson's Journey

In which Terri shares a humorous look at her journey with Parkinson's disease and Dystonia:

For me, illness and health are not opposites but exist together. Everyone has something that is challenging to them. Mine just simply has a recognizable name. My life will take a different path because of this but that's okay. Everyone has changes in their lives that create their path.  I'm learning how to enjoy whatever path I'm on.

Filtering by Tag: health

Living Well - Getting the Body in Gear

Terri Reinhart

Q. What's the best kind of exercise?

A. The one you will actually do.

(from the Davis Phinney Victory Summit Symposium)

Last week, I had my regular appointment with my neurologist. She asked me a lot of questions about how I was taking care of myself. What was I doing for physical exercise? What was I doing to exercise my brain? And was I getting out into the community and being with people?

In other words, what was I doing to exercise my body, mind, and soul. I'll tackle the first one today. One thing at a time.

I was happy to tell her I was continuing with yoga and dance. I know I could also use more aerobic exercising, but at least I'm doing something regularly. She emphasized the need to do stretching exercises to keep limber. I get it. Keeping limber won't prevent dystonia, it just makes it less painful when it happens.

Yoga or dance, aren't just exercises for my body, they also challenge my thinking. I have to remember things like right and left, forward and backward, grapevine... which foot do I start on? Oops, sorry. We're going the other way? Oookaay. Dancing is also a social art.

When I was first diagnosed, we bought a recumbent exercise bicycle. It's a wonderful idea. I can ride for 30 minutes while watching a movie or listening to an audio book. I can program the bicycle to whatever difficulty level I want, and the little screen alsways tells me I have done a

Great Job! 

After we bought it, I was religious about my bicycling. Every day I upped the time slightly and in those first months, I never missed a day. I still ride it at least three times a year.

When I qualified for Medicare, I also qualified for another program: SILVER SNEAKERS! This is a great program which allows free access to the recreation center. I can use the treadmill and other exercise machines, play basketball or raquetball, and use the pool. I prefer the lazy river walking followed by a nice soak in the hot pool. Again, when I first got in the program, I went several times each week. When I go back again, I'll probably have to ask directions to the pool.

Exercise studies are also a good motivation to get physically active. There have been any number of exercise studies for people with Parkinson's in our area. It's like having a free personal trainer for anywhere from six to twelve weeks. I was just called last night about another study. This was a backwards walking treadmill study. Talk about playing to my strengths! I walk backwards well, whether I want to or not. I signed up quickly

I signed up for this study, but after thinking about it, I called back and declined. I am doing enough now. The last time I over extended myself, I ended up exhausted for weeks. Being exhausted for weeks means I fall – a lot. Too much is too much.

The best advice I've received is from Paul Zeiger, my yoga teacher. He constantly reminds us how we can turn any and every daily living activity into exercise. Before getting up in the morning, I can do simple stretching exercises in bed. When I am sitting, I can sit up straight, doing a mountain pose from the waist up. Working in the kitchen? I can still watch my posture, practice shifting my weight from one foot to another, and even balance on one foot, a modified tree pose. Before getting up in the morning, I can do simple stretching exercises in bed.

Having our grandchildren visit provides unlimited opportunities to exercise.

My posture has improved dramatically from before I was diagnosed, or rather, from before I started in yoga class. My overall coordination has improved since starting dance class. Another yoga teacher, Carol Fisher, insists we can still move gracefully, no matter how old we are, even if we have Parkinson's disease.

That's motivation.

If I was a car, my husband would have traded me in by now

Terri Reinhart

Today is the official last day of the year. Everything, even the planet, is a year older. Time is taking its toll on our household. During 2012, our washing machine went out on us twice, our dishwasher gave up completely, everything needs to be painted, and my doctor tells me I need my electrical works rewired.

If I was a car, my husband would have traded me in by now. Let's face it, would anyone keep a car around if the shock absorbers were shot, the heating and air conditioning came on by themselves, often getting mixed up as to which was which, and the transmission had gone haywire? It's not as if we get rid of cars when the ashtrays get dirty, but there comes a point.

Our old Toyota had a sticky valve in the carburator. When it stalled, I immediately turned on the hazard lights and popped open the hood. Our son, John (age 10), got out, took off the air cleaner and stuck a pencil into the valve to keep it open while I restarted the car. Then he put everything together and jumped back in. We kept that car going like that for a long, long time.

Another old Toyota had problems with the ignition. If we took the key out, we had no assurance we could get it back in and turn it. We had the same problem with the door lock. No problem. We simply drove the car and left it unlocked with the key in the ignition where ever we went. Either we got lucky, or it was actually stolen many times, driven around the block and returned.

Our Ford van had a lot of miles on it, but we still kept it – until the transmission went out. At first, I would put it in first gear and rev up the engine for several seconds before suddenly it would kick in and jerk forward. Gradually it gave up and refused to go anywhere. By that time, it had over 200,000 miles.

And me? I have to warm up my engine a lot longer these days. It takes at least a couple cups of tea with caffeine. Of course, there's always the chance of flooding the engine. Then we're delayed while I make several trips to the bathroom. Once my engine is running, I try putting myself in gear; however, the transmission is faulty and I often end up going backwards or sideways.

I tend to veer toward the right, which ordinarily means the tires need to be rotated. As I don't have tires, I just keep veering. I think it's my electrical system. At least my mechanic, I mean my doctor says so. She has decided it would be best to get a system in place so I could be hotwired. This would be the DBS or “Drive Better with Science” system. It is run by the “Darn Battery System” which would be implanted in my chest, turning it into a “Durable Boxy Square” 3rd breast.

The fact that the real name is “Deep Brain Stimulation” doesn't help me in the heebie jeebie department. That I've talked to many people who've had this done and speak very highly of it, doesn't really help, either. I'm not ready to do the complete overhaul. For now, I'll make do with the jalopy veering and stalling and crashing.

The crashing has been happening a lot more lately. I won't make any comments on my exterior shape, except it would be worse if I hadn't added larger bumpers in recent years. I admit, from time to time, I worry a little. It's a pain to put up with a beat up old car. Will my husband continue to put up with a beat up old wife?

Not to worry, he says. I'm an old classic and he's sentimental about old classics.

Death by Parkinson's

Terri Reinhart

Every time I go into see my neurologist, she asks me if I've thought about having DBS surgery. I roll my eyes and let her know my thoughts are the same. It's still brain surgery and I'm not ready for brain surgery. At this, she will remind me of the limitations of my medication and say, “You are young, you know. I'll be treating you for the next forty years.”

I thought about this when I read, once again, an obituary which said the deceased had died of Parkinson's disease. Whenever I read this, I yell out loud to all the people in the newspaper, deceased or not, to inform them, “YOU DON'T DIE OF PARKINSON'S, YOU DIE WITH PARKINSON'S!” This is what I've been told, anyway. What's up? Am I wrong?

Time to go to the experts.

The Parkinson's Disease Foundation says this:

Q: I just found out a friend has PD. I don't want to ask him this question, but what is the long-term prognosis? Is it fatal? (anonymous)

        A: Parkinson's disease is not fatal.

It's disconcerting, to say the least, to see Parkinson's disease listed as the cause of death. This seems to be a widely held belief. One can even look on the internet and find lists of people who have died of Parkinson's. There's a list of celebrities and a list of politicians. There's even a list of chess players who died of this disease.


I wonder if chess players are more at risk for developing Parkinson's?

Admittedly, complications of Parkinson's can cause problems which can shorten one's life. Most of the complications are similar to getting old. If we can't move as much, we're more susceptible to things like pneumonia and heart disease. Choking is a danger. There are undoubtedly other complications, but I'll leave them for now. I don't let myself go down that road very often.

I'm not trying to discount these dangers. I've had the Heimlich maneuver done on me four times. From this, I've learned to not eat meat or salads when my medications are wearing off. I've also learned not to get angry and go on a rant about something or someone while I'm eating meat. That's what happened the first time I choked and it had nothing to do with Parkinson's.

There are many other complications of life which can cause death. Remember what Bilbo says, “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, walking out your front door.” If we go about thinking of all the possible ways our lives can be shortened, we won't go very far at all. And, of course, we know staying home and doing nothing isn't conducive to a long life, either. I don't really think about this much at all, not anymore, and not until I read one more article listing death by Parkinson's.

Out of curiosity, I had a look at one of the websites with its list of PD victims. The site is “The Political Graveyard” and contains many different types of lists. I looked at their list of politicians who died of Parkinson's disease. I was pleased to note how much information is included in each entry, including the exact age of the person in years and days.

I was even more pleased to see the average age of the victims. Most were in their mid to upper 80's. The one in his 60's actually died of a heart attack and had Progressive Supernuclear Palsy, not Parkinson's. Then there is Milward Lee Simpson, from Cody, Wyoming, who died of Parkinson's disease at age 95 years, 210 days. If PD is what took his life, it sure took its time about it!  

I'm going along with my doctor, though not necessarily with her suggestion of brain surgery. I'm going to assume she'll be treating me for the next 40 years. That will make me 94 years, 360 days old... and counting.

I realize, of course, this might not happen. Who knows whether my doctor will still be around in forty years.