Where Joy Hides and How to Find It

We recently came across this Ted Talk on joy, and it seemed a perfect supplement to our post on happiness. It’s by Ingrid Fetell, who states in part, “Each moment of joy is small, but over time, they add up to more than the sum of their parts.  …  Joy isn’t some superfluous extra. It’s directly connected to our fundamental instinct for survival. On the most basic level, the drive toward joy is the drive toward life.”


Happiness and Parkinson’s Disease

Our patient-centered research report on resilience and Parkinson’s Disease focused on how the ongoing challenges of having Parkinson’s can impact your life. It defined resilience as a dynamic process whereby individuals cope with and exhibit positive behavioral adaptation to stress, challenge, and adversity. The report noted that resilience seems to be more of a personality trait and is independent of physical function in PD and does not necessarily decrease over time as the severity of the disease worsens. Going hand-in-hand with resilience is a sense of happiness. Thus, a recent article by Adam Sternberg called Read This Story and Get Happier immediately caught our attention.

Mr. Sternberg reported that the most popular class currently being offered at Yale University by Pofessor Laurie Santos is on happiness, called Psychology and the Good Life. Like resilience, happiness does take practice.  The class teaches what happiness is, why are you’re not happy, and what you can do about it.

The takeaway is simply this: We are inclined to assume that circumstances play the biggest role in our happiness, when research suggests they play the smallest role ( … this is only true if your most basic needs are met) … we grossly underestimate the extent to which changing our behaviors, rather than our circumstances, can significantly increase our well-being.

Happiness, in the end, is a mind-set to be cultivated, not a condition to be imposed.”

Luckily for us, you no longer need to be a Yale student to benefit from Professor Santo’s class.  There is now a free version of this popular class called The Science of Well-Being offered on Coursera that you can take online. The class teaches not only about the psychological research and “the annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do,” but on activities that increase happiness and build better habits.

We forwarded Mr. Sternberg’s article to Dr. Jeffrey Wertheimer, our chief research consultant and also is Chief of Neuropsychology Services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA, for his opinion on it. He replied saying it’s a topic of great interest to him.  He added:

I integrate some of the content into the Growing Resilience and CouragE (GRACE) curriculum I facilitate. There is definitely a trend in contemporary “l, psychology” highlighting research on happiness. U Penn is the home of Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the contemporary father figure of positive psychology and the one who coined the term Authentic Happiness (the title of one of his books).

Dr. Seligman is also the author of The Hope Circuit, which is featured on the The University of Pennsylvania’s website entitled Authentic Happinesss.  This website includes a wealth of resources, including videos on topics such as happiness, gratitude, and compassion.

If you simply want to listen to some music to make you feel happier, it’s hard not to smile while watching the world’s first 24 hour music video of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. The music video features people, alone or in groups, dancing and singing to William’s infectious song.  You can view the 24 hour video here.  We smiled at the two guys in tuxes in front of a Starbucks at 2:20 pm.

The above is a selection from the 24 hour video.


Medical Marijuana and Parkinson’s Disease

On April 27, 2018, Dr. Jill G. Farmer, a neurologist and movement-disorder specialist, gave a lecture on medical marijuana and its possible use in helping to treat Parkinson’s Disease (PD) symptoms. (Note: You an watch the the complete lecture following this post.)

While there is no evidence that supports medical marijuana is effective for treating the motor symptoms of PD, there is evidence that it is effective for treating the non-motor and hyperkinetic symptoms of PD.

While some may fear the “high” associated with marijuana and the stigmas associated with using it, Dr. Farmer explained that medical marijuana is not the same as recreational-use marijuana. Specifically, the chemical component that produces the feeling of euphoria (THC) is greatly reduced or eliminated leaving the component (CBD) that is more therapeutic. In fact, there are already Cannabinoid-based (coming from Cannabis, or marijuana) medications on the market for multiple neurological conditions.

How one can get medical marijuana, however, depends on if it is legal in the state where you live and what its requirements are. For example, in NJ where it is legal, you need to have a qualifying condition such as chronic pain or anxiety. In Pennsylvania, however, Parkinson’s itself is an indicated diagnosis for medical marijuana.

Once you and your doctor decide to go forward with medical marijuana, it is not as simple as bringing a script to your local pharmist. Instead, you first need to obtain a certification from an approved doctor that you suffer from a covered medical condition. Next you need to apply for an ID card through your State’s medical marijuana website. Once you have that ID card, you need to go to an approved dispensary to obtain the medical marijuana. You can have a caregiver get this for you. However, that caregiver will also need to be registered with the State, and this includes a criminal background check.

For more information on the requirements in NJ, see the NJ Medicinal Marijuana Program website. In Pennsylvania, see the PA Medical Marijuana Program website. For more information in the State where you live, do an Internet search on your State’s name and medical marijuana.

If you cannot view the lecture above, please use this link.

Parkinson’s Unity Walk

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month! That means it’s time for the annual Parkinson’s Unity Walk in New York City’s Central Park.  This year it will be on Saturday, April 28th.  Are you registered to go? We hope so!

It’s always a fun-filled, inspirational event that raises awareness and funds for Parkinson’s research.

Besides the 1.4 mile gentle Walk, there are several free programs to enjoy throughout the morning at the Bandshell.  Programs include a Wake Up nd Stretch to the Classics; Nia Brain Body Fitness for PD; Dance for PD and the PD Movement Lab; Rock Steady Boxing; Amplify your Life with LSVT Loud and LSVT Big; Small Beach Towel Workout for PD; and musical performances by The Original Mixed Company, an oldies singing group specializing in Doowop, R&B, and Gospel.  Be sure to stroll down Margot Zobel Way where you’ll find sponsor booths with educational information and materials. Visit our Ask The Heathcare Experts booth, where a variety of individuals—such as a movement disorder specialist, neurosurgeon, movement disorder nurse practioner, physical therapist, occupational therapist, DBS programmer, and a nutritionist—are available to answer your questions. Light snacks and drinks are provided, and each participant will receive a tote bag to hold information from our sponsors.

We have been proud to run this event each year.  From the very beginning, 100% of all donations raised by walkers and contributors is designated specifically for research and is divided among the following major U.S. Parkinson’s foundations:

We look forward to seeing you there!

– Margaret Tuchman

Parkinson’s Support Groups: Strength in Numbers

Guest blog post by Jeffrey Wertheimer, Ph.D., ABPP-CN, our Chief Research Consultant and Chief of Neuropsychology Services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California

Parkinson's Social Support

Support groups for individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and their care providers can play a key role in helping individuals cope with the progressive changes and variability of PD symptoms. As a clinical neuropsychologist, I have had the pleasure of being invited to speak at several support groups in the PD community, including support groups for 1. individuals with PD alone, 2. care providers alone, and 3. a combination of both individuals with PD and their care providers.

I have found that a key element to a successful social support group experience is “fit.” Like medications for an individual, the composition of the social support group has to have the right chemistry for optimal benefit. For many individuals, social support groups are very helpful in obtaining education and feeling supported; support groups can strengthen resilience and inspire both individuals with PD and care providers. Support can take many forms, including 1. practical guidance related to managing day-to-day activities, learning about practical coping techniques and accessing resources in the PD community, to 2. general emotional support.

Groups can have different formats, including, for example:

  • Size: small groups to large groups
  • Structure: from structured lectures from experts in the community to less structured general conversations led by a PWP or care provider.
  • Location: community-based resources, such as hospitals, community centers, and churches to family living rooms at a participant’s home.

Online: On-line or internet resources are also an option for many. A web-based community including numerous forums can serve as significant support for many.

As for preference of formats, I have heard from many participants who have attended different types of groups that a semi-structured group is preferred, a group in which there is a focus on a particular topic while still having the opportunity to process the topic and discuss other pertinent matters that may be of interest. Further, group participants have emphasized the importance of having groups that are uplifting, not just focused on the challenges that come along with PD.

When I have asked about the perceived benefits of a support group, most consistently, I hear that social support groups help to alleviate the feelings of disconnection and isolation, at least to some degree. Almost invariably, individuals have indicated that support groups help participants feel validated and connected with a community. It has been very clear that for many, expressing their voice in such a venue has been empowering and meaningful.

Themes: Some examples of themes that have come up in support groups have included:

  • New treatment options
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Effective coping techniques
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Cognition
  • Pain
  • Apathy
  • Speech and swallowing
  • Caregiver well-being
  • Loneliness and challenges with support systems
  • Living optimally with PD: Tips for healthy and meaningful living
  • The current status of clinical research for individuals with PD (medications; coping techniques; treatment options; etc.)
  • General supportive conversation about a topic of interest

Additional Considerations:
Some groups may be a good fit for some, while other groups may be a better fit for others. If one is not comfortable with the group, or if one does not find benefit from a group, it is recommended to try a different group that may better suit the person’s need. Furthermore, if a support group format does not meet the needs of an individual, consideration for one-on-one support with a mental health professional may be of help.

For general thoughts about social support for individuals with PD and related recommendations, it may be thought providing to read The Parkinson Alliance’s recent survey report designed to gain insights about social support for individuals with PD. The report can be found here. As another resource, should one want to locate a support group in closer proximity to where they live, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation has a resource to call to assist in trying to connect someone to a support groups in one’s area: (800) 457-6676.

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