‘atching famous people, like Michael J. Fox or Mohammad Ali, deal with the devastating effects of Parkinson’s you can’t help but admire their courage for coming forward and trying to help others with the same affliction. It is a disease that has no known cure, but through their fund-raising efforts there have been great strides taken in the last few years in alleviating some of the symptoms.
Parkinson’s is classified as a brain disease, since it initially affects the brain — which in turn influences the rest of the body. It involves a loss of brain cells that control movement, speech and memory. Symptoms are tremors, stiffening of the body, difficulty in walking, slowed speech and often dementia in the final stages.
Approximately 1 million people are afflicted with Parkinson’s disease in the United States alone — with 6 million around the world being affected. There is no known cause, but genetics, head injuries and exposure to chemicals are believed to contribute, according to the National Parkinson’s Foundation.
Fox and Ali sustained injury to their brain from athletics — Ali in boxing and Fox playing hockey as a youth. We all witnessed Ali taking knocks to the head, but for Fox there was any particular incident that he can recall that may have caused it. The problem with concussions is that at the time there doesn’t seem to be any damage, and it may be years later before any problems crop up. By then the incident was long forgotten.
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system. Dopamine-generating cells in the midbrain (idiopathic) die out and there is no known cause. In the first stages there is muscle control problems, including shaking and body stiffness, and slowness in movement that makes walking difficult.
As the disease advances attention, memory, language skills, decision-making and executive functions (cognitive functions) begin to cause problems. A person with Parkinson’s has difficulty with memory and recalling learned information. They begin to have trouble with space and movement, losing their coordination and peripheral vision. In advanced stages dementia may begin to take effect. Sleep, emotional and sensory problems are also among the symptoms. It is unusual, but people like Fox, under 50 years of age, can develop Parkinson’s.
Five major pathways connecting one brain area to another – motor, oculo-motor, associative, limbic and orbitofrontal circuits make up the basal ganglia, and Parkinson’s disease affects all of these brain areas. The disruption of these areas explains most of the symptoms. From a scientist’s point of view, the motor circuit has been affected the most intensively.
In the early stages, medication can control most of the symptoms, and physical training can help with early motor symptoms. As the dopamine neurons continue to die out and the disease progresses the drugs may not be as effective, and complications called dyskinesia, marked by involuntary movements, takes over. Changes in diet, deep brain stimulation and brain rehabilitation have all been shown to be effective in the treatment, and able to slow the progress of the disease.
Recently several dance studios throughout the country have opened their doors to Parkinson’s patients and allowed them to dance as part of their rehabilitation. It allows the patients to socialize with other Parkinson’s patients, do an activity that keeps their joints from stiffening up, and gives them a sense of self-confidence. One of these dance studios is located in Chicago, the Hubbard Street Dance Class has been holding weekly dance classes for victims of Parkinson’s and their families. It allows patients and their families, at least for a short time, to take their minds off of their disease and have a “normal” life.
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at BrainAthlete.com.
AARP – Parkinson’s & Dance: An Unusual Partnership Unites: http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/news-12-2011/us-med–dance-and-parkinson-s.1.html
Wikipedia — Parkinson’s disease: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_disease