Centre for Accessibility Services

Parkinson's disease

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is categorized as a neurocognitive disorder. Parkinson's disease is caused by a degeneration of the cells, which produce dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter that sends signals from one nerve cell to another, which impacts voluntary and involuntary movements. Symptoms of Parkinson’s often arrive when over half of the dopamine-producing cells are lost. Loss of dopamine can also affect mood and thinking. Much more research is needed to completely understand how, why, and when this disorder occurs. However, genetics and environmental factors may work together to cause degeneration of the cells.

Symptoms & common characteristics

  • Resting tremors
  • Rigidity; increased stiffness in muscles and joints
  • Hypophonia; deterioration of the voice, speaking softly
  • Micrographia; small, cramped handwriting
  • Pain; physical and emotional
  • Cognitive and mood changes including depression, anxiety, forgetfulness/confusion and loss of impulse control

Centre for Accessibility support for Parkinson’s disease may include

  • Assistive technology
  • Alternate format materials (texts in PDF/E-text)
  • Extended time for class assignments
  • Note taking services
  • Preferential seating in class
  • Exam accommodations: separate setting, extended time, use of computer, reader/scribe

Statistics

  • There are approximately 100,000 (2008) people with Parkinson’s in Canada, including 13,000 (2014/2015) in British Columbia. The average age of diagnosis is 60. Up to 20% of individuals with Parkinson’s develop symptoms before the age of 50.
  • Most are diagnosed over the age of 60; however, at least 10% of the Parkinson’s population develops symptoms before the age of 50. Approximately four million people worldwide are living with the condition.
  • Tremors are the first symptom to appear in about 70% of people with Parkinson's.
  • Men are 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson's disease than women.

Sources

UCB – Canada

Parkinson’s Foundation

How to support students with Parkinson’s disease

  • Provide a detailed syllabus with clear identifiers of your contact information, office hours/drop-in hours, course objectives, deadlines for assignments/projects, and exam dates.
  • Arrange to meet with the student to discuss specific learning needs, and strategies for success.
  • Allow for students to talk to you about their disability, their needs, and related accommodations.
  • Provide an opportunity for draft submissions of projects and/or assignments; allowing students to check their work and ensure they are on track.
  • Willingness for flexibility with regards to assignment deadlines, as it may take the student longer to complete the work.
  • Willingness to be flexible with attendance, as the disability may result in the student needing to stay home from class.
  • Consult with Centre for Accessibility at UFV to obtain help in understanding the specific nature of the impacts of the disability.
  • If you are concerned about a student and are unsure whether to intervene, seek supports from CAS or Student Services on campus.

Resources and websites

Parkinson Society British Columbia

Mayo Clinic

Parkinson Canada

How to manage Parkinson’s disease as a student

Fatigue: If you are struggling with fatigue you may find it helpful to create a schedule that supports your school and personal needs. If you have more energy at a certain time of day, plan your most difficult tasks for this time. Make sure to include rest periods. Use this time to fully rest, not read or watch TV. Prioritize what needs to be done and let other things go and try not to do it all. Breaking down larger tasks into smaller tasks will give you a chance to rest while you work.

Emotions: If you are feeling emotional, take a breath and try to think of something positive. It may help to keep a list of positive things that you can focus on. Find strategies that help calm you down such as counting to ten, going for a walk, or deep breaths. Take a break and come back to what you were doing once you are more relaxed. Write down your feelings and consider speaking with a counsellor and/or doctor about your challenges.

Self-care planning: Staying organized and creating a self-care plan that can model positive self-care strategies ensures you are taking care of yourself amongst the stressors of post-secondary life.

Daily routine: To ensure that you are successful in your time at University, creating a routine that provides you with enough sleep, healthy eating and regular exercise can be beneficial to your overall health. A proper routine will decrease or eliminate the symptoms of your disability and allow you to maintain good mental, emotional and physical health.

Support: A strong support system can allow you to lean on those that understand your disability the best. This can include community resources, University resources, friends, family, and pets. Students can bring their support systems to see counsellors, advisors or accessibility advisors through written consent.

Meet with your instructor: You are your own best advocate so regular communication with your instructors and support team is recommended to ensure that your needs are being met. Instructors provide information about their office hours and ways to communicate at the beginning of the course. Utilize these times to check in with your progress, ask questions and receive feedback.

Assistive technology: There are a variety of devices that can support your ability to learn. Some of these supports include digital recorders, note-taking services, laptops, alternate format textbooks, speech to text/text to speech, etc.  If you require support through technology to assist your learning environment, talk to your accessibility advisor about your challenges so they can help you explore the various supports available.

Physical design: Consider the classroom seating layout to decipher what works best for you especially for videos and demonstrations. If the symptoms of your disability(ies) require you to take breaks or access the washroom ensure you sit near an exit. If you require further assistance with seating, your accessibility advisor can help situate classroom set-up.

Deadlines: Technology can be difficult to manage at times, but when it comes to supporting us with our everyday tasks, it can be a lifesaver. Our cell phones, laptops, tablets, and computers come with a variety of tools that can help manage our daily lives. There an assortment of software or apps that can assist with creating to-do lists, events calendars, and reminders. These tools can highlight important tasks and ensure projects meet the required deadlines. In any case, embrace the technology and find an app that works for you. Try to use one device or sync your device to others so information can be easily accessible.

Daily activity organization: Use a calendar, journal or notepad to help keep track of important information. Timers and alarms can help remind you of appointments or when it is time to head to class, or ask a family member or friend to help with reminders. Studying with peers or using a tutor can help you practice and remember information. If you are unsure about a specific topic ask your instructor for help.

Study area organization: It is important to get organized to ensure life can stay simple and allow you to focus on the deadlines that come up fast. Having a place for everything can decrease the hours of searching for that piece of paper with your brilliant notes, or arriving to class on time. Creating systems with organizational tools including hooks, baskets, clear boxes or visual reminders will simplify your life and help you naturally organize necessary items. As for supporting you in the classroom, having color-coded binders for each class, clear labels and highlighted important dates can help.

Memory tools: Make use of flashcards or mind mapping tools to help learn and embed new vocabulary, facts or information. Flashcards can help with storing information into long term memory. As you practice, remove the cards you know well and focus on the ones you need to learn.

Studying for tests: Studying often seems like a daunting task, however, if you add color, context and a variety of tools, it can make it a more enjoyable task. Last-minute studying can cause panic or stress. To avoid this, start studying with ample time (a week) in advance. Frequent 20-minute intervals with short breaks in-between can allow you to keep focus and manage the symptoms of your disability. Re-word information into your own words for better understanding. Ask a friend or family member to test your knowledge, or join study groups. If possible, ask the instructor if there are any “old tests” you can review for study purposes.

Resources and websites

Parkinson Society British Columbia

Mayo Clinic

Parkinson Canada

Contact Us