When a patient is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, people may think he will inevitably die from the degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, which can impair a person’s motor skills and speech.
But it is not life-threatening, and managing it through an active lifestyle can prevent secondary conditions such as pneumonia.
To raise awareness about this often misunderstood disease – the second most common neurodegenerative disease here after Alzheimer’s disease – a team of 10 Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) students organised a charity run at Punggol Waterway Park yesterday, supported by the Central Singapore Community Development Council and Parkinson Society Singapore (PSS).
More than 300 people turned up for the event, which is in its second year. So far, the run – which had three categories: 2km, 6km and 10km – has raised about $4,000 for the PSS this year.
HCI student Ivan Ang, 17, a first-year junior college student, said his team’s curiosity about the topic was piqued in 2015, after learning that founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had Parkinson’s disease. “After conducting some research, we realised there is very little awareness about the disease, its symptoms and how to cope with it. Many also mistake it for Alzheimer’s disease.”
The students found that exercising and keeping active was one way of managing the condition, and first organised a charity run last year to highlight the importance of this.
The team also spearheaded other initiatives, such as coming up with a device that can simulate involuntary hand tremors that patients may experience, in collaboration with the National Neuroscience Institute. This helps the public experience the symptoms and empathise with patients.
Said HCI team member Lee Zhan Hong, 17: “Simple tasks like picking up a glass of water may come easily to us, but it could be difficult for patients with these symptoms.”
The students also produced a documentary based on interviews with patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Even though there are 6,000 to 8,000 people with Parkinson’s disease here, Madam Neo Siew Hiong, a centre manager with the PSS, said that only about 500 or so are members of the PSS, which provides support and runs events for patients.
She said: “Some patients may not want to come out and take part in programmes because of the social stigma associated with the disease. But having support groups and a positive mindset can help them manage their conditions a lot better.”
A Jurong GRC MP, Ms Rahayu Mahzam, who was the guest of honour at the event, lauded the students’ efforts. “We need more initiatives like this, where citizens see something that they can add value to, and speak up for issues that may not be as popular (as other causes).”
Ms Rahayu, who is on the executive committee of the People’s Action Party Seniors Group, added that more attention should be paid to Parkinson’s disease, given Singapore’s ageing population.
Retired pub manager Annie Lan, 67, who completed the 2km run, was diagnosed with the disease in 2005. She hopes that more awareness can help reduce the stigma surrounding the disease.
“When we go out, sometimes people stare at us. But we are no different from them. By exercising every day and keeping myself active, I can complete most tasks on my own and fight back against the symptoms.”