A fall down a flight of stairs in 2009 forever changed the course of Kent Benander's life. Kent, who was 57 when he took his tumble, thought he had only injured his ankle. Yet the reason he was having trouble negotiating the stairs was actually due to something far more serious than an accident. Months later, he learned he had Parkinson's disease.
"It took a while to figure out because people didn't think about Parkinson's disease in someone my age, but it's more common than people know," says Kent.
Kent received his diagnosis after being referred to neurologist Rajesh Pahwa, MD, at The University of Kansas Health System. The health system is one of only 26 designated National Parkinson Foundation Centers of Excellence in the nation.
Managing the symptoms
After his diagnosis, Kent continued working 10- and 12-hour days as an information specialist at Johnson County Community College. Initially, he was on a low dose of carbidopa/levodopa, an oral medication for Parkinson's disease. "Just a little medicine made it much better for me to move around," he says. "Most of the time you wouldn't know I have Parkinson's disease."
Kent said the medication relieves his symptoms for a few hours. As the medication wears off, his symptoms increase. "On time" is when the medication is working. "Off time" is when symptoms return before the next dose kicks in. These fluctuations often interfere with activities of daily living. "I would lose four or five hours a day from 'off time'," he says.
Diet and meal times also affected his symptoms. For example, protein can hinder absorption of the medication into the bloodstream. "If you take carbidopa/levodopa and then eat a big steak, the medication may not have any effect," Kent says.
Time to retire
By December 2013, Kent's disease had progressed. In addition to oral medication, he was using an injectable form of apomorphine, which helped to reduce his "off time."
With his disease advancing, Kent and his wife, Janie, opted to retire. He had worked 40 years in computer science. Janie worked 25 years as a manager for DST in Kansas City.
"We had planned to retire by that date," says Janie. "But we also had the impact of Parkinson's disease. We didn't want to wait too long, and everything was in place to retire."
To ease Kent's mobility, they bought a new house with most of the main living area on one level. Janie has a big loft for her weaving and quilting projects. Kent has his woodworking shop next to the house in a 900-square-foot garage. He enjoys working on projects for friends and relatives.