Neil Diamond’s disclosure this month that he will retire from performing because he has Parkinson’s disease shocked and saddened the world. But the singer-songwriter’s decision to continue composing is something experts say can help him manage the incurable condition.
Robert Smith, who was 58 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, says he can relate to Diamond’s experiences. He recalls feeling crushed by the reality that his career as a landscape designer was behind him.
“It was devastating,” Smith tells Newsmax Health. “I had done some wonderful projects and I had to give it up. I missed my work immediately.”
He initially turned to the most common medications — dopamine agonists and carbidopia levodopa — to manage his symptoms, including tremors in his right arm, shuffling, a hunched over posture, and depression.
But once he was able to get his symptoms under control, Smith was able to begin work on a more comprehensive plan — what he calls a “playbook” — for better health.
“My symptoms made an early diagnosis easy, but there is no cure for Parkinson’s,” he adds. “I was in bad shape and a friend helped me create a playbook.
“I formed a team because I couldn’t deal with it on my own. Your family is your rock, and there is a general practitioner, a neurologist, and a psychologist who helped me with mental and emotional aspects. Depression with Parkinson’s is significant.”
Smith has incorporated all his personal experiences and research into a new book, “The Parkinson’s Playbook: A Game Plan to Put Your Parkinson’s on the Defense.”
The book spotlights management strategies that other Parkinson’s sufferers can adopt for their own plans.
Soon after his diagnosis, Smith began a regular fitness routine and worked his way down from 182 pounds to about 140, which also helped him manage his condition.
“It was a big turnaround for me to be fit and trim. I was going to the gym five days a week plus one day with a trainer,” he says. “I used a muscular therapist who used Bowen Therapy to work on muscles and overall body position. It was a whole-body, self-healing process.”
Posture is a big issue in Parkinson’s he added, and he now relies on a kinesiologist to help him do things specific to the illness, like rising from a low stool with weights in his hands, chest opening exercises, and continually trying to incorporate more movements and work on coordination.
Now he combines three days of yoga, to limber up and work on balance, with one session with a personal trainer and one workout at the gym during each week. Part of his plan includes a counselor who evaluates his progress and keeps him on track.
Smith also makes use of a financial advisor. “It would be easy to let that slip,” he says, since cognitive abilities can decline with Parkinson’s. Another important part of his “playbook” is mental and emotional.
“I call it master and pleasure; I learn new skills and do something I enjoy and every two weeks I evaluate my progress,” he says.
“There are a lot of things you can do to help take the place of work. I spent the last two years writing a book and if I write about my plan for dealing with Parkinson’s, I have to live up to it.”
Writing, he explains, has been a life-changing process. He has started giving public talks about Parkinson’s and has begun to hear from other people who claim his work has given them hope.
“Neil Diamond, at 77, has probably dealt with Parkinson’s for a few years,” Smith says. “Being on the road a lot makes it hard to get into a rhythm. I reached out to him and offered him my book. I just hope he works on the mental and physical parts together.”
“It has been 12 years now and I think I slowed Parkinson’s down. The key thing is exercise, staying fit, trim and flexible. There is also a certain point where, psychologically, people think that Parkinson’s is terminal, but Parkinson’s isn’t going to kill me. If I keep my health going it will be something else.”
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