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World Parkinson Congress: Bringing people together for a cure

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Montréal welcomes the World Parkinson Congress October 1 to 4 at the Palais des congrès, the city’s convention centre. This large and prestigious international meeting shows how a convention can bring together researchers, the medical community and people whose lives are affected by a disease on a daily basis.

More than 3,500 people from over 60 countries have landed in the city for the four-day event. It’s expected to generate more than $6.4 million economic spin-off benefits for the city. But the congress will have immeasurable intangible benefits as Montréal learns how to get “Parkinson’s ready.”

Parkinson’s is a degenerative brain disease with no cure. Its symptoms include shaking, slowness in movement, muscle stiffness and changes in cognition. The cause of this pervasive disease is unknown, yet it affects 6.3 million people worldwide, including 100,000 Canadians.
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Event Design with People in Mind

At most scientific meetings, researchers and medical professionals do not have direct contact with the people who suffer from the conditions they specialize in. But this congress places world-renowned medical and healthcare professionals alongside people living with Parkinson’s, their caregivers and advocates. Imagine this: a person suffering from Parkinson’s could be sitting next to the researcher who may someday unlock the cure.

Event planners went to extra lengths to make the congress accessible and welcoming to the whole spectrum of attendees:

Renewal rooms: Long days of conferences can be taxing on people with Parkinson’s – and on everyone, really – so designated spaces offering yoga, meditation, clay work and other creative therapeutic activities have been set up and run by volunteers. These activities are open to everyone, particularly for patients and their care partners.

Sliding scale registration fees: People with Parkinson’s and their caregivers are given the choice when registering online to pay the full fee or the reduced fee. It’s an honour system – those who can afford to pay more, pay more. Other conference organizers were sceptical of this idea, saying nobody would choose to pay the full price if there’s this option. But half of the registrants chose to voluntarily pay the full fee, demonstrating the character and dedication of this community.

Donation-based scholarship fund: Registrants also had the opportunity to make a donation to support the attendance of a person with Parkinson’s disease, junior researcher or scholar. People could donate any amount in addition to the registration fee and it goes into a fund to finance scholarships. Many people, including speakers, chose to donate and about $17,000 was collected for scholarships.

Creative engagement: In the months leading up to the congress, organizers hosted a video competition on their YouTube page. Another project, The Parkinson’s Quilt, will be on display in Montreal – with panels designed by 600 people from 14 countries, it’s the largest quilt ever created to raise awareness about Parkinson’s. It debuted in Glasgow, Scotland in 2010.

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WPC Shows the Value of Face-to-face Meetings

We live in an increasingly connected world, where people can immediately access each other via social media, video conferencing, telephones and email. Nothing can connect people, however, like meeting face to face.

An event like the World Parkinson Congress brings people together and breaks down silos. When scientists and medical professionals are side-by-side with people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers, it can be a reminder of why they’re doing the work they do. This may be the only time that some professionals, especially those who do lab research, actually interact with people with the disease.

For people who live with Parkinson’s, this event gives them a sense of hope and connects them to a network of people who share similar experiences.

The World Parkinson Congress bridges online and in-person connection with their Buddies Program. This optional program matched registrants from around the world with one another, based on relevant information. Close to 200 people have been in communication with each other in the months before the congress, where they will meet in person for the first time. The hope is that this connection will benefit those who feel isolated by the disease and help delegates feel more welcome when they arrive at the event.
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Getting Montréal “Parkinson’s Ready”: Leaving a Legacy for the Host City

Tourisme Montréal has worked hand in hand with Parkinson Society Québec, Parkinson Society Canada, the World Parkinson Coalition and many other partners to welcome this important meeting and its delegates.

An enormous effort was put into making Montréal “Parkinson’s ready.” The World Parkinson Coalition organized Parkinson’s training sessions for everyone from hotel staff and restaurant employees, to taxi and bus drivers, to ensure that delegates will have a favourable experience in the city.

The extensive trainings and preparations for this event will have a lasting impact on the city of Montréal, which now has a better understanding of the needs of people living with this chronic degenerative disease.

The World Parkinson Congress is an example of how planners and partners can work together to create an event that is meaningful and educational for multiple stakeholders, by thinking outside of the box, improving accessibility for everyone and providing connections.

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