Diagnosing and treating cognitive deficits with Parkinson’s disease

Sean Udow
Dr. Sean Udow

One of the most difficult aspects of Parkinson’s disease is that although doctors can treat its motor symptoms, they often underestimate the impact of accompanying thinking and reasoning problems.

At Toronto’s Sunnybrook Research Institute, Dr. Sean Udow divides his time during his Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship by focusing on ways to treat those cognitive problems, and on research to investigate a possible link between memory, judgment and reasoning deficits and blood pressure regulation. His fellowship is funded by Parkinson Society Canada’s National Research Program (NRP.)

Udow, a neurologist, knows that without any confirmed diagnostic tests for Parkinson’s, doctors need keen clinical skills to determine whether and what type of neurodegenerative disorder their patients have. The doctors rely on their experience, patient history, and observation.

“Parkinson’s disease isn’t diagnosed by an MRI or a blood test, so you really have to have a strong clinical acumen,” says Udow. “A lot of what we do is like detective work, or good old-fashioned doctoring.”

That’s why Udow is excited about his fellowship, which allows him to work with and learn from expert clinicians like Dr. Mario Masellis, and also to participate in research studies.

During their research, Udow and his colleagues will use unique Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques to scan the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies, another form of dementia. Some of those people will also have orthostatic hypotension – variable blood pressure, which can cause dizziness and fainting when blood pressure drops abruptly. By comparing any changes in the brain the scans reveal, Udow hopes to find further evidence that suggests the variations in blood pressure may cause the cognitive symptoms people with Parkinson’s and other people with dementia experience.

“Blood pressure fluctuations may cause small silent strokes or transient alterations of brain networks that may worsen cognitive impairment,” says Udow.

If he can confirm the link between orthostatic hypotension, cognitive problems and these two neurodegenerative diseases, Udow hopes the findings will lead to further research to determine if early, aggressive treatment of blood pressure fluctuations can prevent the progression of cognitive symptoms.

Dr. Udow was recently awarded the one-year, $50,000, Garden Centre Group Co-op Corp. Clinical Movement Disorders Fellowship from PSC’s National Research Program. This NRP fellowship program gives new doctors the opportunity to receive training specifically in the diagnosis and management of Parkinson’s disease. By 2031, the Parkinson’s population will double. This fellowship is an important step to ensure more medical specialists are trained in Canada to provide high quality care to the growing number of people living with Parkinson’s.

New government, new opportunities


The latest federal election was like no other in recent history. Following one of the longest campaigns ever, Canadians turned out in record numbers to elect a Liberal majority government.

During the campaign, Parkinson Society Canada learned of the Liberal Party of Canada’s significant commitments to healthcare. Some of the top priorities that affect the Parkinson’s community include:

  • Increase health spending by $3 billion during the next four years in order to provide additional and improved services for the nearly two million people currently receiving care at home.
  • Extending the eligibility criteria for the Compassionate Care EI benefit to include coverage for those with serious chronic illness and to accommodate the episodic needs of caregivers.
  • Address the affordability of medication by increasing access and reducing overall costs of prescriptions through bulk purchasing and working together with the provinces to reach a new health accord.

With the election of this new government comes a host of new opportunities. The Liberal Party has clearly stated they will be changing the tone of government and allowing MPs within their party to vote freely on issues important to their community. With 213 new MPs and a renewed emphasis on local engagement and collaboration, it is crucial that we continue to build on the local relationships our Parkinson Ambassadors have successfully fostered leading up to the election. Parkinson Society Canada will continue to work with all parliamentarians alongside the Parkinson Ambassador Network to represent our voice well at policy tables going forward.

About the Parkinson Ambassador Network

The Parkinson Ambassador Network of volunteers across Canada helps advance the interests of Canadians affected by Parkinson’s disease by meeting with elected officials and key policy makers at both the provincial and federal levels. Parkinson’s Ambassadors play a vital role in our advocacy initiatives.

If you, or anyone you know is interested in getting involved with our advocacy work, please email us at advocacy@parkinson.ca and someone will be in touch with you. To find out more about the Ambassador program, visit: parkinsonambassador.ca.

Opening the giving season

GivingTuesday, December 1, 2015 is an international day of giving and the opening day of the charitable season. This special day is a time when everyone can come together to share their commitment to favourite causes and celebrate the joy of giving. If you use Twitter and/or Facebook, #GivingTuesday is a great way to lead by example and encourage your friends, family and followers, to give back to the community.

The number of Canadians diagnosed with Parkinson’s will double by 2031. For more than 100,000 Canadians, a cure can’t wait. We need your support to fund essential research, like that being undertaken by the 15 researchers funded this fall through the National Research Program, who will conduct a variety of projects, advancing our knowledge of this complex disease. Researchers explore causes, biomarkers and neuroprotection, among other areas of Parkinson’s.

Donations also help fund our advocacy efforts, such as encouraging the federal government to increase the flexibility of caregiver financial support, so spouses can afford to miss work to care for their loved ones. Funding for webinars, websites, printed resources and support groups, means people living with Parkinson’s and their families have someone to turn to for information, empathy and compassion.

Your gift on GivingTuesday will help ensure a better life with a brighter future for Canadians living with Parkinson’s today and a world without Parkinson’s tomorrow.

This GivingTuesday, make a donation in support of all the Canadians who will be affected by Parkinson’s disease in your lifetime. Take our GivingTuesday pledge today and let us know you plan to show your support.

Your wishes, your Will

Shirley and Earl Simard
Shirley and Earl Simard

Organizing your Will can be intimidating and sensitive, but part of your personal journey involves planning for the future. This means ensuring that your last wishes are fulfilled so that friends and family will be honored in the way that you think best. Putting it off means that you may have less control over your end-of-life care and legacy – your loved ones may also be forced to make difficult decisions and manage your estate during this most difficult of times. Worse, they may be left financially unprepared and excluded from the estate process with no power to advocate for your wishes.

Many people living with Parkinson’s say that their families were relieved to know they had completed their Will and Powers of Attorney. It freed them to focus on their health and spend their energy on the things that matter most.

Earl and Shirley Simard are a couple who have included a gift in their Wills to Parkinson Society Canada. “Besides the tax benefits for the estate, our children will not have to make any decisions in this regard and we can direct how the funds are used,” said Earl Simard whose wife, Shirley, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009.

Once your family is cared for, you may want to leave a charitable gift to Parkinson Society Canada in your Will. A bequest can reduce taxes on your estate and enrich the lives of people struggling with Parkinson’s at the same time. Our Will planning toolkit is a great resource that will walk you through the process to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. You can ensure that the people who are most important to you are financially prepared. Give them the gift of remembering their loved one without being overwhelmed by details.

Take the first step and talk about your wishes with family and trusted friends. You don’t have to deal with this on your own – please contact Elizabeth Banman at 1-800-565-3000 ext. 3385 to request your free Will planning tool kit today. Check out the Gift and Estate Planning section of our website for more information, sign up for My Parkinson Legacy newsletter or get started with your free Will planning toolkit today.

We are changing to serve you better


On January 1, 2016, we will formally change our name and become Parkinson Canada. We will proudly continue to serve you and the Parkinson’s community from coast to coast to coast.

We are the same trusted partner that you have known for decades. We continue our commitment of placing the needs of people with Parkinson’s first while operating as an efficient and effective health charity.

Find us online at www.parkinson.ca or call our bilingual, toll-free Information and Referral line at 1-800-565-3000 from anywhere in Canada.