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Artists with Parkinson’s to show at Sept. 10 OHSU Parkinson’s Symposium

Symposium to feature experts talking about research on the disease; artwork demonstrates how creativity can help people fight the disease

Parkinson’s disease doesn’t have to win — it doesn’t have to defeat the people affected by it.

People living with Parkinson’s prove that every day.

And this Saturday, a bunch of Oregon Parkinson’s patients will be proudly offering that proof — in a one-of-a-kind art show that will demonstrate just how much they are winning out over their disease.

More than 20 people with Parkinson’s will participate in an art show that will be part of the OHSU Parkinson Center of Oregon’s 28th annual symposium on Parkinson’s disease. The symposium — Saturday, Sept. 10, at Portland’s Red Lion Jantzen Beach — will feature experts on Parkinson’s talking about the latest research in fighting the disease.

Meanwhile, around the perimeter of the hotel ballroom where the Parkinson’s experts will be speaking, the Parkinson’s patients’ artwork will be displayed. The pieces will range from wood-turned bowls to dynamic water features to poetry and music.

Allen Davis, who for almost four decades was a hydraulic engineer with the worldwide engineering and construction company CH2M Hill, now uses his engineering background to produce unique water-feature art. The pieces are made up of acrylic tubes filled with water that is constantly bubbling and forming vortexes.

Davis, 68, of Corvallis, says his Parkinson’s causes him to work more slowly than he used to. “But it leaves me free to innovate and develop,” he says of his art.

Eric Thurston, meanwhile, pursued his long-held dream of setting up a woodworking shop in 2008 — the year he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. And since then, even with the Parkinson’s, he creates intricate wood bowls and vases with a wood lathe.

“I have this woodworking shop that I wanted to have for a long time, and I worked out techniques that were easy enough to accommodate any physical disability,” Thurston, of Cottage Grove, says. “I guess it’s a matter of adapting as much as you can to do a given art form. I consider myself pretty lucky to be able to do this.”

All of the artists’ work highlights what scientists are increasingly learning about Parkinson’s — that staying active and engaged and creative can be not only psychological therapy in handling the disease. It also can actually help patients fight the disease, even reverse its effects in some cases.

“There is now scientific evidence to suggest that certain activities — exercise, social connectedness and creativity — may not only be therapeutic for Parkinson’s symptoms, but may actually improve brain function,” says Julie Carter, co-founder and associate director of the OHSU Parkinson Center of Oregon. Carter will lead a breakout session at the symposium for Parkinson’s caregivers.

Other Parkinson’s experts at the symposium will include OHSU specialists talking about their research in evaluating how dietary supplements (creatine) might alter the course of the disease, and research in evaluating “biomarkers” to diagnose and assess progression of the disease and patient response to treatment.

The keynote speaker at the symposium will be Andrew Siderowf, M.D., M.S.C.E., an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a national expert on evaluating biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease.

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