Muhammad Ali, the most well known patient and advocate of Parkinson's Disease, was laid to rest on Friday. His passing brings to mind the need to remind everyone exactly what this cruel and crippling disease is, and how Parkinson's affects people.
Dr. Diane Hesselbrock is a neurologist with UCHealth Memorial. "Parkinson's Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder, which means is it's a progressive disorder that leads people to have difficulty with their movement. They will move slower than usual and will have difficulty walking. They may also have a tremor, because of an increased amount of dopamine in their system, and that will become progressively worse over time."
While Parkinson’s usually affects people over the age of 50, Michael J. Fox's diagnosis at a much earlier age shined a bright light on the fact that Parkinson's can strike anyone at any age. Some of the lesser known early signs of Parkinson's include slowed movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture, or balance, the loss of automatic movements, also changes in speech and changes in handwriting.
Dr. Hesselbrock says, "If you saw ‘96 Olympics opening ceremony, you saw the shake in his arms that is consistent with a Parkinson's tremor. Parkinson’s also affected his voice - he has a very soft voice when he would speak- and Ali moved much slower than you would expect somebody of his age to move. Parkinson's patients are most at risk of falls, and in older patients falls can have devastating consequences."
Research has come along way in the fight against Parkinson's, but still there are nearly a million Americans currently diagnosed, and 60,000 people a year are newly diagnosed.
In terms of prevention, Dr. Hesselbrock adds, "At this stage we encourage people to be physically active and mentally active, and to eat a well balanced diet. About 10% of Parkinson's cases are genetic, meaning they inherited the disorder from a parent or grandparent, but there is no way to prevent Parkinson's at this point. There is also no cure for Parkinson's Disease at this point, but we do have treatments we can use. There are medications, and there are some people who end up going through surgery where they have electrodes placed in their brain to help control their movements through electrical stimulation."
None of the symptoms listed above by themselves are a positive sign you may have Parkinson's, but if a few of them ring true or if you have any concerns or questions about Parkinson's Disease have your doctor check them out for you.