Family physician goes above and beyond to educate colleagues about Parkinson’s disease


Dr. Gordon Hardacre is a man of action. This past June, he celebrated 35 years as a family physician, a distinguished career of serving the Toronto community as a doctor, researcher, teacher and advocate. Very little slows Dr. Hardacre down, except Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Hardacre was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1996 and, in the face of very challenging symptoms, he has not only continued to serve his patients and his community, but he willingly volunteers his time and expertise to make a difference. As both physician and patient, matters related to Parkinson’s are very important to Dr. Hardacre and he works tirelessly to increase the understanding of the disease amongst his fellow family physicians and medical students… and they’ve never needed it more.

The statistics are frightening… nearly 100,000 Canadians are battling Parkinson’s disease today and, in the absence of a cure, experts predict that number to double over the next ten years. At the same time, the number of practicing neurologists is expected to decline, making it even more difficult for Canadians with Parkinson’s to obtain specialized medical care. In an already tight health-care environment, fewer neurologists means increased pressure on family physicians. They must become more knowledgeable about this complex neurological disease and be prepared to manage more aspects of their patients’ medical care.

HN: When did you first suspect something was wrong?

Dr. H: In early 1996. I had persisting stiffness in the fingers of my left hand and my wife noticed that when I walked, my left arm wasn’t swinging. At that time, I had a patient who was exactly my age (50 years) with similar symptoms. She was diagnosed with ALS and died three years later.

HN: How did you come to an accurate diagnosis?

Dr. H: I am embarrassed to say that I by-passed my family doctor but I knew I had a neurological problem and it was easier and quicker to go straight to a neurologist here. I came away from that appointment being told that he thought I had Parkinson’s.

HN: What was your first thought?

Dr. H: I was joyful… delighted. I stopped at the side of the road to call my wife and said, “He thinks its Parkinson’s”. She said, “We’ll take it!”

HN: Joyful seems an odd reaction. Why joyful?

Dr. H: Because I thought I had ALS. I was looking at a very rapid and serious deterioration and probable death within 5 years. I don’t mean to say that everyone should feel joyful about Parkinson’s, and I’ve subsequently had times where I’ve not been terribly joyful but compared to the alternative I knew that Parkinson’s was treatable and I could live with it for quite a number of years.

HN: Why have you become so passionate about informing your fellow physicians about Parkinson’s?

Dr. H: Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease and we don’t get a lot of neurology teaching (in medical school). The neurology community is proportionate to the population, it is and will be shrinking, the population is aging so the prevalence of Parkinson’s will increase, and there’s going to be more and more for those of us at the primary care level to do in the future. I think our medical students and residents will benefit as they go into practice with some knowledge of the movement disorders they are going to see and some of treatments. It is very important for people of all disciplines at the primary care level.

HN: You were very involved with Parkinson Society Canada as they developed their new resource kit for family physicians. What kind of feedback are you getting from your colleagues?

Dr. H: Well, the kit is a very good tool. I’m being asked to do a lot of consultations from colleagues who would like my opinion. I give seminars once a month to medical students. They seem happy to have them as they haven’t had much of this information so far in their training.

HN: Are we making progress?

Dr. H: Yes, we are. Just this week Mount Sinai made a breakthrough with stem cells, surgeries are getting less invasive and less risky, there are medications coming out all the time, new neurotransmitter pathways are being discovered all the time. The disease is slowly being uncovered and I am very optimistic. It may seem slow day-to-day, but if you step back and look at the big picture, the progress is moderately rapid.

HN: Should everyone with Parkinson’s see a neurologist?

Dr. H: Yes, I agree with that. Many of them just aren’t available within hundreds of kilometers or many months. Waiting lists are very long. There simply aren’t that many

HN: What is your message for others battling Parkinson’s?

Dr. H: Be optimistic – there is progress being made in the discovery of cause and treatment. Solicit the support of their friends and family. Be aware of early signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s so they can bring concerns to their doctor. Most important though is that they maintain optimism.

Dr. Gordon Hardacre currently holds the positions of Director of Undergraduate Family Medicine Education, University Health Network; Senior Staff Physician in Family & Community Medicine, Toronto Western Hospital; and, Assistant Professor of Family & Community Medicine, University of Toronto.