Nurturing Friendships at WPC One Buddy at a Time

Kip Smith and Laurie Nobbs meet in person at WPC.
Kip Smith and Laurie Nobbs meet in person at WPC.

Everyone could use a travel companion, especially when you’re venturing out of your normal stomping grounds. For people with Parkinson’s traveling abroad to World Parkinson Congress (WPC) in Montreal, for example, managing Parkinson’s symptoms compounded by possible language barriers makes relationships and conversations that much more challenging.

Parkinson Society Canada (PSC) and the World Parkinson Coalition wanted to help conference attendees feel more comfortable while in Montreal. This led to a pilot project and the new Buddies program was born. The Buddies Program paired Canadians together with international participants based on personal information they provided to organizers, such as language, gender, and age of diagnosis.

Laurine Fillo, from Alberta, didn’t waste any time signing up after registering for WPC.

“It sounded like a great idea. Being from Alberta we were sure other Albertans we knew would be there. I thought signing up would be beneficial to my buddy,” said Laurine, partnered with Sharon Daborn, WPC Ambassador for Australia.

Although Laurine and Sharon didn’t interact as much as they would have liked, due in large part to Sharon’s duties as a WPC Ambassador, they both feel the experience was a valuable one.

“We went to the Buddies Reception together which was a really good experience. It was good to see the face and voice of someone you’ve been getting to know. From there on I was flat out (busy),” said Sharon.

Other buddy pairs had an easy time connecting prior to, and during, WPC. Laurie Nobbs, from British Columbia, Canada was paired with Kip Smith from the United States. The two started cultivating a relationship in January 2013 via email.

“We exchanged emails once every week or two. In January I got an email from (the program coordinator) with contact details for Laurie and that was it. We talked pretty often. We attended the buddies reception and a few sessions together. It was a lot of fun,” said Kip.

“We started communicating quite a while before congress; about eight months before. In that time we developed an easy going relationship. We had a lot in common and we shared a lot of info,” added Laurie.

“When we got to the buddies reception we saw that the event was beautifully organized. Some people met for the first time and exchanged pictures. Two fellas embraced each other when they finally met. These were complete strangers prior to the Congress. There was a really energetic feeling in the room. When we met Kip face to face we felt emotional, like meeting an old friend,” added Linda Thiessen, Laurie Nobbs’ wife and caregiver.

Prior to WPC, Kip and Laurie tried to meet face to face when the Smith family travelled through B.C. en route to Alaska. The timing didn’t end up working out but the Smiths will make another attempt to visit next summer when they repeat their trip up North.

“Next summer we’ll try again,” Kip reassured.

Bill Sloan, WPC volunteer and administrator for the Buddies Program, was instrumental in making the pilot program a success by matching 206 WPC attendees into 103 buddy pairs. He also spearheaded the Buddies Reception, held just prior to the opening ceremonies for WPC, to help buddies meet face to face, most for the first time.

Being a person with Young Onset Parkinson’s himself, Bill Sloan was an ideal choice to make matches that complimented each other well. With Bill’s diligence and hard work the Buddies program turned out to be a meaningful addition to the Congress format.

“It was a success, and we could make it even more successful. We learned things to make improvements for next time,” added Bill.

Other buddies also felt the program was worthwhile and the benefits will live beyond the Congress.

“It’s nice to have somebody to talk to who understands what you’re going through and maybe give you some info on how they deal with their own Parkinson’s. Kip has had Deep Brain Stimulation surgery and I’m interested in it for myself. He shared a lot of info with me,” added Laurie.

“I can take a break from it because I don’t have Parkinson’s but Laurie can’t. Having a buddy who understands what he’s going through helps him. It’s interesting to see that each person with Parkinson’s is unique while also having commonalities,” said Laurie’s wife Linda.

The relationships formed at WPC won’t stop simply because Congress is over. Some of the participating buddies plan to keep their conversations going by way of email, texting and online chats. The Buddies Program didn’t just bring people together for a few short days, it helped create lifelong friendships that will carry on for years to come.

“The best part for me was to actually feel comfortable coming into a new country. I’m not a great international traveler. I felt good knowing there was someone there that I could talk to,” said Sharon.

With this level of success and positive experiences, let’s hope the program lives on for old friends and new buddies at the 4th WPC in Portland, Oregon in 2016.

For more information on the Buddies Program click here to view the WPC poster presented in Montreal.

Online Learning Module Helps Family Physicians Treat Parkinson’s Patients

Parkinson Society Canada has been promoting the Canadian Guidelines on Parkinson’s Disease since the launch in summer of 2012. The materials have been promoted at medical and aging conferences, through publications and in partnership with the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences.  Now more than 65,000 doctors and clinicians across the country are learning how to consistently identify, diagnose and treat Parkinson’s to a common standard, a first for Canada.

Now those doctors will have a new way to continue their medical education through an online course using virtual case studies based on knowledge from some of the 84 recommendations found in the guidelines. This online learning module, delivered in English and French, will educate family doctors and other health care professionals including physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists about managing the motor and non-motor aspects of Parkinson’s disease, while keeping the patient’s perspective top of mind.

“These online learning modules will allow clinicians to better identify the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s and will help family doctors and general practitioners make appropriate referrals,” says Grace Ferrari, Health Care Professional Education Associate at Parkinson Society Canada.

The case studies take doctors through two scenarios where virtual patients describe symptoms, allowing the doctor to apply her/his knowledge of the Canadian Guidelines for a proper diagnosis, ongoing treatment plan or referral where necessary. The first involves a newly diagnosed person with Parkinson’s who has yet to begin medication while the second covers a patient who has had Parkinson’s for eight to ten years.


Online education tool for physicians helps identify Parkinson’s signs and symptoms.

“People see their family physician more regularly than they see their neurologist. Ultimately the modules will help family doctors communicate with their Parkinson’s patients in order to better recognize signs and symptoms of the disease. This improves management of Parkinson’s over time as it progresses,” Ferrari reinforced.

The modules will be accessible through Parkinson Society Canada’s website for health professionals at shortly. Although the online learning modules are geared towards health care professionals, Ferrari says anyone with an interest can use the resource to become more educated.

“There is an emerging focus on treating the whole patient. That’s why we see a shift to interdisciplinary health teams. Our education materials will serve a variety of those health care professionals,” Ferrari says.

The Canadian Guidelines on Parkinson’s Disease online learning module was developed by Parkinson Society Canada with input from the Medical Advisory Committee, a group of experts that includes neurologists, movement disorder specialists and family doctors.

For more information on the Canadian Guidelines on Parkinson’s Disease and the online resources for health professionals visit