Alpena woman helping to increase Parkinson’s awareness

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Alpena’s Judy Poli has been actively involved in Parkinson’s fundraising and awareness events since she was diagnosed with the disease nine years ago. Here, Poli poses in her home with a display board featuring photos and information from last year’s Metro Detroit walk sponsored by the Michigan Parkinson Foundation.

Since her own diagnosis nine years ago, Judy Poli has been sharing her story to help others learn and cope with Parkinson’s disease.

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, and an estimated 30,000 people in Michigan currently have the chronic and progressive neurodegenerative disease, according to the Michigan Parkinson Foundation. That number is expected to jump to 70,000 within the next 13 years. Nationwide, about 1 million people have Parkinson’s, which has no known cause at this time.

Diagnosed in April 2010, at age 67, Poli was shocked. She had noticed resting tremors in her right forearm and hand, so she consulted with her doctor, who referred her to a specialist in Toledo, Ohio. Dr. Lawrence Elmer is a movement disorder doctor who specializes in Parkinson’s disease. Poli travels to Toledo for a checkup with him every six months. Her aunt, whose husband suffered from a severe case of the disease, recommended she see Dr. Elmer.

“It’s not easy, but my family has made it so much easier,” Poli said. “I feel that my Parkinson’s has not gotten any worse, because I’m here to help other people. … It’s something that people don’t, somehow, like to talk about.”

She said initially she was resistant to talking about it and going to meetings, but her husband Norm stood by her and told her, “We should go.”

News Photo by Darby Hinkley A photo of the Alpena team that participated in the walk, held May 19, 2018.

“He’s been my great supporter,” Poli said of the man she’s been married to for 53 years.

Poli noted that surrounding yourself with caring people is one of the best ways to cope with the disease.

They have two sons and four grandchildren, all living in Alpena: Todd and Jenny Poli and daughter Laura, and Matt and Kellie Poli and children Nicholas, Allison and Benjamin.

“They are my lifeline. We get together a lot, we’re a very close family,” she said, “and it does make matters easier, because I see people that don’t have their families with them, or they’re a single person, and it’s very, very difficult for them.”

Her older sister also has Parkinson’s, which Poli said has not been proven to be genetically transmitted.

“It’s a toss up between environmental and genetics,” she said as to what may cause the disease.

Average onset of the disease is age 58, and men are one-and-a-half times more likely to have it than women, according to the MPF.

Poli was in a trial program in which she was on a high dose of CoQ10.

“I really feel that might have slowed the progression,” she said.

She said she only gets tremors when her right arm is resting, and since she is right-handed and active, that doesn’t happen often.

Although no cure has been discovered, regular exercise, medication and, sometimes, surgery are recommended to manage symptoms.

“Many research articles document improvement in balance, confidence, quality of life and reduced fall rates with persons with Parkinson’s disease when they are participating in an exercise program,” according to the MPF. “Exercise needs to be a lifelong habit and the benefit fades if exercise stops.”

Poli said in her most recent checkup, Dr. Elmer told her that although she is going into her 10th year with the disease, she is exhibiting symptoms and progression consistent with that of someone in their first year.

“He’s amazed at how well I am doing, but I work at it,” Poli explained. “It’s not something that comes easy.”

She attributes her progress to staying physically active, in part by attending the Empowered Movement community program at Alpena Senior Citizens Center, facilitated by Thunder Bay Therapy. She said she participates in the program three times a week for one hour each, and they are evaluated each quarter throughout the year. Since she began in July, she has improved after each evaluation.

Poli and her lifelong friend Jane Rodgers participate in the two-day Michigander Bike Tour each summer. Her friend suffers from Crohn’s disease.

“We agree staying active is so important,” Poli said.

Poli also organizes an Alpena team that walks in the annual Metro Detroit Walk for Parkinson’s. Last year her team raised $3,100 to benefit the Michigan Parkinson Foundation.

In addition to her roles in Parkinson’s support activities, Poli is active in the community, volunteering at the Friendship Room, Besser Museum and in the schools.

“Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called substantia nigra,” a statement from the MPF explains. “Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.”

Poli said the symptoms vary, from tremors to a blank stare, to freezing up and not being able to move mid-stride, which is a primary reason many Parkinson’s patients suffer from injuries from falling.

According to the MPF, primary motor signs of Parkinson’s disease include:

∫ tremor of the hands, arms legs, jaw and face

∫ bradykinesia or slowness of movement

∫ rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk

∫ postural instability or impaired balance and coordination.

Some of the nonmotor symptoms are hallucinations, delusions, cognitive changes, sleep disorders, mood disorders, constipation, depression, vision and loss of smell.

Poli added that a person may exhibit just one or several of these symptoms.

She encourages anyone who may be suffering from symptoms to consult with their physician and seek support. Poli heads up a Parkinson’s support group, which meets at 1 p.m. on the third Monday of the month at First United Methodist Church in Alpena.

A local fundraiser for the Michigan Parkinson Foundation is planned for 5:30 p.m. Friday at Thunder Bowl Lanes in Alpena. An annual statewide fundraiser, the 2019 Metro Detroit Walk, will be held June 8 in Birmingham to benefit the Michigan Parkinson Foundation.

For more information about Parkinson’s, visit

“I want people to be more aware, to learn more about it, and to realize that if you get it addressed, it’s certainly going to be much easier for you,” Poli said.

She added that a symposium will be held in Alpena Aug. 8 and 9, presented by the Michigan Parkinson Foundation.

Bowl for a good cause on Friday

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month.

Bowl for a good cause on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Thunder Bowl Lanes, 2192 U.S.-23 in Alpena.

The cost is $20 per person, which includes two games, shoe rental and pizza.

Proceeds will support the Michigan Parkinson Foundation.

For more information, call Judy Poli at 989-370-6854.