Parkinson’s disease involves a loss of brain cells controlling movement. Besides tremors, rigid body and hesitation in walking, slowed speech and sometimes dementia are just some of the symptoms that can worsen over time. There is no cure.

The disease affects about 1 million people nationwide, 6 million globally, according to the National Parkinson’s Foundation. The cause isn’t known but genes are thought to play a role, as well as head injuries and exposure to chemicals.

Most of us are aware of celebrities Michael J. Fox and Mohammad Ali, who have avid and actively involved in research on Parkinson’s disease. We have witnessed the tremors and loss of control of their muscles as they act or appear in public, and most of us are confused as to what could have caused this. We are not alone. Scientists are just as confused.

In the case of Ali, repeated hits to the head could be a probable cause. Michael J. Fox played hockey as a youngster. Perhaps he sustained a concussion or brain injury that did not appear to be serious at the time, but could have progressively gotten worse. Doctors do not know for sure.

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system. Dopamine-generating cells in the midbrain die out and there is no known cause (idiopathic). In the beginning, muscles movement, including shaking, body stiffness and slowness in movement make walking difficult. As the disease advances cognitive skills (attention, memory, language and decision-making and executive functions) begin to arise. The ability to recall learned information is how the memory is affected at the beginning. Visio/spatial difficulties also occur, like when the individual is asked to perform tests of facial recognition and perception in line drawn. In advanced stages, memory loss known as dementia occurs. Sleep, emotional and sensory problems are also among the symptoms. Although unusual, Parkinson’s does occur in those under the age of 50 (as in Fox’s case).

There are five major pathways in the brain connecting other brain areas with the basal ganglia. These are known as the motor, oculo-motor, associative, limbic and orbitofrontal circuits, with names indicating the main projection area of each circuit. All of them are affected in PD, and their disruption explains many of the symptoms of the disease since these circuits are involved in a wide variety of functions including movement, attention and learning. Scientifically, the motor circuit has been examined the most intensively.

Typical cases can be diagnosed through neuroimaging. Treatments can be effective for early motor symptoms. As the disease progresses and the dopamine neurons continue to die out there comes a time when the drugs become ineffective, and can produce a complication called dyskinesia, which is marked by involuntary movements. Diet changes, deep brain stimulation and brain rehabilitation have been shown to be effective.

An unusual activity that can help alleviate some of the symptoms – dancing! Hubbard Street Dance Class in Chicago has been holding weekly dance classes for victims of Parkinson’s and their families. Not only can they exercise their weakening bodies, they are able to socialize with other families in the same boat, and – even for just a couple hours, can take their minds off of their disease and have a “normal” life.

This is Ron White,two-time USA Memory Champion. There are many research projects ongoing that are addressing different aspects of the brain that can cause Parkinson’s.






AARP -  Parkinson’s & Dance: An Unusual Partnership Unites:–dance-and-parkinson-s.1.html

Wikipedia – Parkinson’s disease: