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A Winnipeg woman diagnosed with Parkinson's at a young age is sharing her passion for art with other people living with the disease.

Janice Horn was 37 when she was diagnosed, and was already exhibiting symptoms like tremors, weakness in her hands, and extreme fatigue. Parkinson's typically affects people 60 and older.

Horn has been an avid artist since she was a child, and after her diagnosis came to find such creation therapeutic. Horn says art saved her life.

"It really helped me with emotional issues that I was having because of Parkinson's. It also helped me with my tremors quite a bit, it does still help me with my tremors. For some reason I get into a zone and I hardly tremor at all. I can even do Ukrainian Easter eggs, which is really delicate work," she says.

With art being such a help for herself, Horn decided to start an art therapy program for other people living with Parkinson's called 'Shake it Up' Creative Arts Group. The program started four months ago, and they meet the second Tueday and second Saturday of each month.

"When you have something like Parkinson's, when you're diagnosed with something like that, it's quite devastating and you look for meaning. You know, we're always looking for meaning in life. For me, I thought, maybe this is what is it: helping people do this and just helping them deal with it might be what it's all about for me," says Horn.

Research has found that art therapy can in fact be very beneficial for people living with Parkinson's. Kelly Williams, clinical resource nurse at the Movement Disorder Clinic, says art therapy not only creates and promotes neuroplasticity, it also treats anxiety and depression.

"This really allows them to express what they're feeling: their joys, their frustrations, their fears. It really allows it to get out, and allows them to cope with it a bit better. So it actually is a really great tool to treat anxiety and depression that medications alone can't do," says Williams.

Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to compensate for injury and disease.

"If you teach your body something new, you're challenging your body and you're challenging your brain, and that creates neuroplasticity and protects the brain. So when (creating) art, it's fine motor skills, which often are lost with people with Parkinson's," says Williams.

Media was invited to one of the group's sessions yesterday, August 22nd. The theme for the day was masks.

Doug Lloyd was diagnosed with Parkinson's six months ago, although he knew something was wrong three to four years ago. The mask he made is meant to represent the "dark and the light side of Parkinson's."

"With the light side is associated all the colour. With the dark side is all the words: melatonin, cure, it's not impossible -- it's all associated with living with the disease," he says.

Lloyd says you have a family while you have Parkinson's and the disease affects them too. His artwork also features a clock with no hands because the disease is timeless. "Live your best life" is pasted to the bottom of the piece. It was Lloyd's first time attending the art group. He says it allowed him to express himself, and he feels good about what he's done.

Michèle Anderson is a mixed media artist who has been living with Parkinson's for almost 19 years. Her mask has green eyes with the words "say cheese" written on them. It is inspired by an encounter she had with a store cashier.

"This cashier was looking at me like I was really angry with her and I said, 'I'm not angry with you it's just my Parkinson's.' She says, 'No, no, your eyes are smiling.' That's why I've got this Say Cheese because she's smiling with her eyes," says Anderson.

Anderson says cooking is her passion and painting is her therapy. She says it's very good therapy and she recommends it, and exercise, for others.

This is the first art group for Parkinson Canada. The only cost for the participants is to cover the materials they use, which are, at this point, supplied by Horn. Parkinson Canada provides the space; it's currently housed in the back of their Winnipeg office at 414 Westmount - Unit 7; if the group gets big enough, a larger space will be found.

Parkinson's is a chronic, degenerative neurological disease with no known cause (though there is some speculation, says Williams) and no cure. It is characterized by a loss of dopamine in the brain. In Manitoba, an estimated 6,800 people have been diagnosed with the disease, although Williams says those numbers are fairly old. The number is expected to reach 12,000 by 2031.