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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23325


Mr MOSSFIELD (3:47 PM) —I am pleased to speak in support of the member for Gilmore's private member's motion on the prevalence of Parkinson's disease in the Australian community. Parkinson's disease is unlike some other ailments in that it is difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms are not uniform and will vary from patient to patient. The disease usually affects people over the age of 40, but the symptoms are more obvious with people aged over 60. In my family's case, the change in body movements and other symptoms were firstly attributed to arthritis and advancing years. It is possible that even the family doctor, because he only sees the patient in his surgery, may take some time—even a year—to discover and diagnose the disease. It is therefore more likely that a neighbour or a non-regular acquaintance, such as a churchgoer, may be the first to suspect that a major medical condition is involved. Even a local dentist's comments that his patient had difficulty getting out of the dentist's chair could be the first sign of Parkinson's disease.

Therefore, the point contained in (1) in the private member's motion in relation to the length of time taken to reach a diagnosis is most important, as Parkinson's disease is not a life-threatening disease and early diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment can lead to a significant improvement in the quality of life. There are now many Parkinson's disease support groups, and information is available on the Internet to reassure patients and their families. One publication that would be of use to Parkinson's disease sufferers and their families has been written by Dr Roger C. Duvoisin MD and published by Raven Press.

The cause of Parkinson's disease is not known, although the disease was first reported as far back as 1817 by James Parkinson in his essay on shaking palsy. The medical advice is that the most important element in making a medical diagnosis is the patient's own account or an account from the patient's partner, which may reveal a significant event or incident that was out of character with the person's previous behaviour. While the complaint is more common in older people, it is not uncommon for people in their 40s to be affected, so early diagnosis, appropriate treatment and a better community understanding of the complaint is important, to allow younger Parkinson's disease sufferers to continue in normal employment.

The disease presents itself in much the same way in young people as among people in the older age group. People with what is called younger onset Parkinson's disease will have special concerns, because they will be dealing with the disease at a younger age and for a longer period. These concerns may involve making career adjustments and family arrangements. Some sufferers may be reluctant to tell their employer or work colleagues of their condition, in the fear that it might affect their career opportunities. Dr Duvoisin wrote in his book that some professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, who are Parkinson's disease sufferers, are aware that their patients or clients seem to lose confidence in them after noticing the tremor. On the other hand, many patients who work in their own businesses or retail shops have continued to work successfully through to retirement age. For example, Janet Reno, the former Attorney-General of the United States was a Parkinson's sufferer and continued quite competently in her position.

However, there is good news for people with young-onset Parkinson's disease, because this disease in younger people progresses a lot more slowly and associated problems, such as memory loss, confusion and balance difficulties, are also less frequent in younger people with the disease. Therefore, there is a need to better educate the general public regarding Parkinson's disease. Dr Duvoisin is reasonably confident about the long-term outcome for Parkinson's disease sufferers, and that is why the points in this motion are so important. While there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, it can be effectively treated. He claims that, as the complaint progresses slowly, successful treatment can control the symptoms for many years and allow the patient to lead an active and independent life. With research, as suggested in this motion, there will be discoveries that improve means of treatment, which hopefully will make it possible to keep the symptoms reasonably under control for the remainder of a patient's life. For these reasons, I commend the motion to the House.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.