Heightened Awareness for Parkinson’s Disease

Today is World Parkinson’s Day, which was established 22 years ago on April 11, 1997 as a joint initiative between the European Parkinson’s Disease Association (EDPA) and the World Health Organization. The observance fittingly takes place on the birthday of social reformer and political activist James Parkinson (b. April 11, 1755), who first recognized Parkinson’s (then “Shaking Palsy”) as a medical condition.

By next year, it is estimated that nearly one million people will be living in the US with Parkinson’s disease (PD)—that’s more than the number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as ALS) combined. Awareness about the disease—and mental health in general—is key in order to work toward new treatments and a potential cure, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

KeyToPD Cover 1

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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.


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

Autism and Parkinson’s Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month as well as Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Last year, we interviewed Dana Alliance member Barry Gordon, M.D., director of cognitive neurology/neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins University, as well as Dana Alliance member Mahlon DeLong, M.D., a neurology professor at Emory University.

I e-mailed Dr. Gordon this week to get a quick update about autism research. He said there has been incremental progress in both the basic genetic studies and in some of the epidemiologic studies, such as a recent study suggesting a link between prenatal antidepressant use and autism.

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Parkinson’s Awareness Month Interview: Mahlon DeLong

Mahlon DeLong, M.D., is a neurology professor at Emory University and a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member. As one of the foremost experts on Parkinson’s disease, we thought he’d be a great person to talk to for Parkinson’s Awareness Month.

DeLong estimates there are 1.5 million Americans with Parkinson’s and that it’s somewhere between one-fourth and one-third as common as Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s is the second most common movement disorder, behind tremor itself.

Andrew Kahn: What are some of the warning signs of Parkinson’s disease?

Mahlon DeLong: Parkinson’s disease means something to physicians that’s a little bit different from what it means to the public. There are a number of disorders that look like Parkinson’s that share a lot of features. We call those atypical forms of Parkinson’s. Then there is Parkinson’s, which gives a pretty clear, consistent picture. Often that begins with tremor, usually on one side. It occurs not when people are moving, but when they’re relaxed: a rest tremor. They have difficulty with movement. They may notice their handwriting getting more difficult to read. Their faces may become less expressive. As time progresses, the disease can affect both sides.

There can be non-motor symptoms that occur earlier: more than 90 percent of patients lose their sense of smell; there can be bowel and/or bladder difficulties; sometimes people experience depression or trouble sleeping. When we talk of Parkinson’s disease we talk about the core features—the tremor, the slowness of movement, and muscular rigidity, which we find on exam and is not something people complain about.

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