What do Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond and Alan Alda have in common? They are just a few of the celebrities diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease who increased awareness of this progressive, neurodegenerative brain disease for which there is no known cure.
In Parkinson’s disease (PD) there is a decrease in the amount of dopamine in the brain that helps regulate movement and emotional responses. The average age of diagnosis is 62.
Michael J. Fox was 29 and working on his movie, “Doc Hollywood,” in Micanopy in 1991 when he noticed a twitch in his little finger. It turned out to be the first sign of early-onset PD. Although he did not make his diagnosis public for several years, Fox went on in 2000 to establish the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which has raised over $1 billion for research and programs to find a cure. He has provided inspiration and information for so many.
In January 2012 a neurologist uttered these life-changing words to me after conducting an exam, “Mary Ann, you have early stage, mild symptom Parkinson’s disease.” Although I had researched neurological symptoms such as toe curling, decreased dexterity in my hand and an arm that didn’t swing, my first fleeting thought was, “The best part of my life is over!” I was 62.
Quickly, I started to develop a more positive mindset. I was the same person I had been and had much about life to continue to enjoy. I had several close friends/colleagues who had received this diagnosis within a two-year period.
Parkinson’s is a boutique disease. There may be a range and variety of symptoms manifested as well as rate of progression. There is no one test or scan that can confirm a diagnosis, though usually an MRI of the brain is performed to rule out other possibilities.
No exact cause has been pinpointed. Genetic factors can play a role, but account for a small percentage of cases. Environmental factors such as where you live, and chemical exposure, may be part of the picture. Some research suggests links between PD and chemicals used in farming, factories or Agent Orange during the Vietnam war. But there is no one profile that proves causality.