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Makeovers to enhance Parkinson's sufferers self-esteem Michele Lian (The Star) - 11 April 2005

Amy Chow fidgets as a makeup artist begins to apply eye shadow to her eyelids. 

“Will this make me look fierce?” she asks uncertainly. No, answers the artist. “Ok, then,” says the grey-haired, 76- year-old Chow. 
“I don't normally wear any makeup,” she admits. 

Parkinson’s sufferer Amy Chow looking great after her makeover.

She closes her eyes, gracefully lifts her hands from her side to rest them on her lap and settles back into her chair. 

Looking at Chow, one would never guess that she has Parkinson's disease - an incurable, debilitating brain disorder that can render its sufferers shaky, rigid, slow in movement and slurred in speech. 

“I've had Parkinson's for four years now,” says Chow eloquently. She was diagnosed with the disease in 2001.  “My movements became very slow and my walking was unbalanced," recalls the soft-spoken Chow, who was then living in the United States with her family. “The neurologist took one look at me and told me that I had Parkinson's disease.” 

She was among six patients in a beauty makeover and nutritional workshop organised by the Malaysian Parkinson's Disease Association and Eastin Hotel in Petaling Jaya to coincide with World Parkinson's Day today. 

For Chow, activities like these that help take her mind off the disease and its impact on her life. 

“In the United States, I learnt that support groups are very important because you get to meet a lot of other people who suffer from the disease, and that's how you learn about it.” 

Chow is determined not to let her condition interfere with her life. “I cannot afford to let it get to me. If I do, I will become so depressed and unhappy. I have to fight it.” 

She performs a variety of exercise physical and mental exercises daily to help keep her body active and her mind sharp. “I go for walks and I do facial exercises to move my eyes and mouth. I have to practise smiling or else my face will become a mask. 

“I even have to exercise my voice and learn how to speak loudly, otherwise I will lose it.” 

Many patients become depressed and ashamed, says Chow. “But there is nothing to be ashamed of. I tell everybody that I have Parkinson's so that they help me with things that I have trouble doing. 

Parkinson’s sufferer (left) Koo Tan Choo with Dr Chew Nee Kong  (right) looking great after her makeover

The more help I get, the better I can maintain my quality of life.”  Koh Hun Wai, 74, has been suffering from Parkinson's for the past 16 years. “In 1988, I first noticed that my movements became very slow and I started dragging my feet when I walked, like a stroke patient.” 

Koh and his wife, Loh Lye Khum, left Penang for Kuala Lumpur after he was diagnosed with the disease, as treatment facilities are more accessible here in Klang Valley. 

He is currently getting treatment at Universiti Hospital in Petaling Jaya. 

The couple now lives with their eldest daughter and four grandchildren in Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam. 

“We used to travel a lot, but we had to stop about three years ago because he moves very slowly,” says Loh. 

Koh keeps his mind off his condition by taking hour-long walks every morning and watching sports on television for most of the day. 
“I also play with my grandchildren. It helps a lot," says Koh, who had his hair cut and blow-dried. 

“Today's event is a refreshing change from that routine.” 

Dr Chew Nee Kong, a neurologist and medical advisor to the association, says the effects of Parkinson's disease on a person's mental health can be just as debilitating as its physical consequences. 

“It was previously thought that Parkinson's affects only a person's movement, but now we know that it also affects the memory, personality, behaviour and feelings. 

“At least 40% of patients are depressed because they have a very negative self image. They feel inferior to people who don't have the disease.” 

Depression is more prevalent among female sufferers, who tend to feel unattractive and become more reclusive. 

“We are hoping that this makeover will help to enhance their self-esteem and perception of their own self-image. 

“In addition, the nutrition workshop is crucial because diet is very important in treating Parkinson's disease,'' says Dr Chew. 

“Healthy food can help one maintain a good physical appearance, so the makeup complements that.” 

Chee Liew Seong, president of the association, says depression sets in when patients find that they cannot control their movements. 

“Coping with the symptoms requires a change in lifestyle. For example, a patient must wait for their medication to work before they have dinner or take a bath. 

“This is why education is important, so patients and their caregivers know what to expect and will be well-prepared." The Malaysia Parkinson's Disease Association can be reached at 03-20962246.