PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – An estimated 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease will be diagnosed this year.
It’s a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement.
Because the majority of people who get Parkinson’s are over the age of 60, it’s often overlooked in younger adults.
As a producer with Local 10 News, Richard Engelhardt’s hands are always in motion, dealing with all the tasks necessary to do his job.
He also enjoys putting pen to paper for a storytelling organization called The Moth.
About three years ago, he started noticing changes in his handwriting.
By 2020, it became even more pronounced.
“I noticed that my handwriting would start with the letters normal size and then they would slowly get smaller to the point where I couldn’t even recognize it when I went back and read it. And that’s when I realized I need to get this looked at,” Engelhardt said.
Visits to two doctors confirmed he was facing early onset Parkinson’s disease.
“I told my family and it was -- the first six months were really difficult. I couldn’t get through anything about the diagnosis without crying,” he said.
Dr. Henry Moore, a Parkinson’s disease and Movement Disorder Specialist with UHealth’s Miller School of Medicine treats Engelhardt.
“Now there’s more of these patients that exist and there are some genetic causes behind that, and doctors are more interested in doing genetic testing and seeing these patients,” he said.
Moore said the disease presents differently in younger patients.
“A lot of these patients start with cramps on the legs or the arms, and we call it dystonia’s abnormal postures so you don’t see it usually on the elder population,” he said.
There are medications to address that, but some can lead to severe drowsiness.
“I just can’t take a nap while the news happens,” Engelhardt said.
While it’s been difficult to talk about, Engelhardt believes that pain is easier when the burden is shared.
He feels that opening up about his personal experience helps lighten the emotional load.
“As far as moving forward, it really is just day by day. I don’t know what’s going to happen or where I’m going to go, but if I stay educated and if I have my family by my side to help me, then everything will be OK,” Engelhardt said.
About 10 to 20 percent of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s are under the age of 50, and it’s estimated half of those are diagnosed before age 40.
Along with his family, Engelhardt credits www.themoth.org with helping him through this difficult diagnosis.