Living with Parkinson’s

Alan Alda at Columbia cropped

Best known for M*A*S*H*, Alan Alda has also appeared in 48 films, on Broadway, and written two books. Photo credit: Eileen Barroso, Columbia University

It was hard to miss Alan Alda’s announcement this week on CBS This Morning that the legendary actor had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease more than three years ago. Alda, 82, said one of the reasons he was speaking out was to offer a message of hope to people who are living with the disease: “In the very beginning, to be immobilized by fear and think the worst thing has happened to you – it hasn’t happened to you. You still have things you can do. I’m taking boxing lessons three times a week. I do singles tennis a couple of times a week. I march to Sousa music because marching to music is good for Parkinson’s.”

Through the years, our Dana Foundation publications have often focused on both Parkinson’s disease and Alda’s passion to better communicate science to the public, which is part of our mission as well.

In 2015, about the same time that Alda learned he had Parkinson’s, I wrote “Alda Crushes It,” a blog on Alda’s lecture at Columbia University, entitled “Getting Behind a Blind Date with Science.” In this captivating lecture, co-sponsored by Dana and the Kavli Foundation, he talked about why he had co-founded his own center for science communication at Stony Brook University and how he had been inspired by his time as host of Scientific American Frontiers, a PBS program that explored any number of topics. He was engaging, insightful, and his enthusiasm was contagious.

A year later the publication I edit, Cerebrum, reviewed Alda’s new book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face. We asked Eric Chudler, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington and the executive director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering in Seattle, to tell us what he thought. Chudler wrote: “With humor and a clear, concise, and never stilted writing style, Alda takes readers on his journey to help experts convey neuroscience and other complex scientific topics to a variety of audiences.”

Last year Cerebrum published “Gut Feelings on Parkinson’s and Depression,”  an article by Ted Dinan and John Cryan, researchers at the University of Cork in Ireland,  that focused on microbiota’s emerging role in trying to solve the puzzle that could lead to treatment. We also published “A Smell Test for Parkinson’s,” an article about the growing role of olfactory in diagnosing the disease.

Alda told CBS that one of the reasons he decided to reveal that he was living with Parkinson’s was that he had been on television a lot in the last few weeks talking about Clear + Vivid, his new podcast. He noticed watching himself that his thumb was twitching and felt that “it’s probably only a matter of time before somebody does a story about this from a sad point of view, but that’s not where I am.”

All of us at the Dana Foundation are rooting hard for Alda—and know that he will continue to serve as a role model to others with Parkinson’s or any other potentially debilitating neurological disorder.

— Bill Glovin

Aphasia Awareness Month Interview with Kenneth Heilman, M.D.

For a devastating language disorder that affects almost two million people in the US alone, about 85 percent of people in a national survey have never heard the term “aphasia.” More common than Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, it does not discriminate according to age, race, or gender. With June being Aphasia Awareness Month, we asked Kenneth M. Heilman, M.D., to help us get the word out.

Heilman, who is an expert in language and speech disorders, was Chief of Medicine at NATO Hospital in Turkey during the Vietnam War and currently is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Neurology at the University of Florida (UF) and a staff neurologist at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Heilman has also been a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives since 2003.

Heilman,Kenneth_large

Photo courtesy of Kenneth Heilman

Aphasia is more common than other well-known brain disorders, with an estimated 180,000 people predicted to develop it each year. Why do people know so little about it? Continue reading

#WSF18: Our Microbiome and the Brain

On Saturday at the World Science Festival, microbiologists David Relman, Jo Handelsman, Rob Knight, and Martin Blaser convened for a discussion on how the microbiome relates to our health. Our microbiome, the collective bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, allows us to digest food properly and fight off disease. Research suggests that an unhappy microbiome may contribute to autoimmune diseases, allergies, depression, and even Alzheimer’s.

gk_20180602_DSC6422.jpg

From left: Moderator Emily Senay; David Relman, M.D.; Rob Knight; Jo Handelsman; and Martin Blaser, M.D. Photo: World Science Festival/Greg Kessler

Continue reading

National Parkinson’s Awareness Month Interview with Robert Edwards, M.D.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects roughly one in 100 people over the age of 60. With no biomarker or objective test to make a definitive diagnosis, PD has kept researchers searching for clues on how to treat, and hopefully prevent, the disease.

April is National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, and so we sat down with Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member Robert Edwards, M.D., who specializes in the treatment of PD at the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Clinic. Edwards is a professor of neurology and physiology at the University of California, San Francisco. His lab has received international recognition for demonstrating that vesicular monoamine transport protects against MPTP toxicity, suggesting an important mechanism that may also protect against Parkinson’s.

robertedwards

Robert Edwards, M.D.

Regular exercise is proven to have positive effects on gait speed, strength, balance, and overall quality of life for people with PD. Though studies are still limited, dance therapy is said to greatly improve quality of life for this group, even more so than typical exercise. Can you talk a little bit about this?

RE: I am not an expert in this area, but exercise has clear short-term effects on function and for those more severely affected, on quality of life—those earlier in the disease are doing pretty well in any case. Presumably, exercise helps by improving the function of the basal ganglia circuitry that controls movement, much as it would in normal individuals. Dance therapy focuses on balance and other aspects of motor function different from standard exercises, so might be expected to add something new. Continue reading

Successful Aging & Your Brain at Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

After an inaugural, successful, and sold-out program last September, Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan partnered with the Dana Foundation once again to present Successful Aging & Your Brain (SA&YB) Tuesday evening—this time in celebration of Brain Awareness Week!

Speaker Matthew Fink, M.D., Neurologist-in-Chief at New York-Presbysterian and chairman, neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine, has participated as a panelist for SA&YB programs multiple times and has also frequently spoken at Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. He discussed brain function, changes in the brain as we age, memory, brain diseases and disorders, and maximizing brain function and health.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: