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Understanding more about Parkinson’s disease

Understanding more about Parkinson’s disease

People with Parkinson’s disease often suffer hypomimia, more commonly known as facial masking.

It’s a lack of mobility of the facial muscles and is one of the lesser acknowledged symptoms of the disease.

Waikato University psychology student Adrienne Wootton is studying facial masking for her PhD and would like to talk to people with the disease, their carers or other people they are close to.

“It’s speculatated that masking is linked into the key neuropathology of the disease. There is a reduction in a neurotransmitter called dopamine which is essential for muscle movement,” says Adrienne. “But there is little information available about masking - I can only find a small number of articles internationally.”

Adrienne says her doctoral research aims to find out about the impact facial masking has on people with Parkinson’s disease and people with whom they have a close relationship, be it spouse, family member or close friend.

“I want to find out how people are coping, what their needs and concerns are and what they might need in the way of help,” says Adrienne.

In the first phase of her study, Adrienne would like to interview up to a dozen people with Parkinson’s disease and the same number of carers or close associates. With the information she gathers she will then go on to identify interventions to mitigate the psychological and social impacts of masking and
determine how valuable those interventions might be.

“It’s important that we accurately address the needs and strengths of patients and families because there is currently no effective cure or treatment for Parkinson’s, but the challenges of the disease can go on for a long time.

“What we do know is that those with Parkinson’s still experience emotions, but masking prevents them displaying them and that can lead to misunderstandings or miscommunication, so I’m hoping my study will bring deeper understanding about the subject and assist patients and their families to cope better.”

Adrienne hopes too that her research will bring recognition to the multi-faceted needs and experience of individuals who have neurodegenerative conditions, and provide suggestions or guidance for future masking-based research and interventions.

Her study is supported by a Bryant Trust Postgraduate Research Scholarship and a Waikato University doctoral scholarship.

Anyone interested in participating in Adrienne’s study can contact her at aw107@students.waikato.ac.nz or 020 4727 546.

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