SINGAPORE - When a patient is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, people around them may think that he or she will inevitably die from the degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, which can impair a person's motor skills and speech.
In fact, it is not a life-threatening condition, and managing it through having an active lifestyle can prevent secondary conditions like pneumonia.
To raise awareness about this often misunderstood disease - the second most common neurodegenerative disease in Singapore - a team of 10 Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) students on Sunday (Aug 12) organised a charity run at Punggol Waterway Park, supported by the Central Singapore Community Development Council and Parkinson Society Singapore (PSS).
More than 300 people turned up for the event, which is in its second year. It is part of Project Novo, an initiative started by the HCI students last year. So far, the run has raised about $4,000 for the PSS.
HCI student Ivan Ang, 17, a first-year junior college student, said their curiosity about the topic was piqued in 2015, after learning that founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had Parkinson's disease.
"After conducting some research, we realised that there is very little awareness about the disease, its symptoms and how to cope with it. Many also mistake it for Alzheimer's disease."
They found out that exercising and keeping active was one way of managing the condition, and first organised a charity run last year to highlight the importance of this.
The team also spearheaded other initiatives, such as coming up with a device that can simulate involuntary hand tremors that patients may experience, in collaboration with the National Neuroscience Institute. This allows members of the public to experience these symptoms and better empathise with patients. It has been featured at more than 10 community roadshows so far.
"Simple tasks like picking up a glass of water may come easily to us, but it could be difficult for patients with these symptoms," said fellow HCI team member Lee Zhan Hong, 17.
They also produced a documentary based on interviews with patients with Parkinson's disease.
Even though there are about 6,000 to 8,000 people with Parkinson's Disease in Singapore, Madam Neo Siew Hiong, a centre manager with the PSS, said that only about 500 or so are members with the PSS, which provides support and runs events for these patients.
She said: "Some patients may not want to come out and take part in programmes because of the social stigma associated with the disease. But having support groups and a positive mindset can help them manage their conditions lot better."
Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam , who attended the event as guest of honour, lauded the students' efforts. "We need more of initiatives like this, where citizens see something that they can add value to, and speak up for issues that may not be as popular (as other causes)."
Ms Rahayu, who is on the executive committee of the People's Action Party Seniors Group, added that more attention to this issue of Parkinson's disease should be paid, given Singapore's ageing population.
Retired pub manager Annie Lan, 67, who completed the 2km run, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2005. Some of her symptoms include a sudden freezing of her feet muscles . She hopes more awareness of the disease can help reduce the stigma surrounding the disease.
She said: "When we go out, sometimes people stare at us. But we are no different from them. By exercising every day and keeping myself active, I can complete most tasks on my own and fight back against the symptoms."