Scratch ‘n Sniff

sniff, sniff, sniff by Brooke, Flickr
sniff, sniff, sniff by Brooke, Flickr

A few months ago, I wrote about the loss of my sense of smell (eeeeewww that smell, June 2015) Turns out many people with Parkinson’s find themselves in similar circumstances. That got me a little worried about what large gatherings of olafactory-challenged PD folks might be like for those with anywhere near-normal sense of smell! You know, we may be victimized by missed spots in a hurried shower,  halitosis from inability to floss our molars or, dare i say it, rolled-on deodorant that we couldn’t get to roll on!

Then comes today’s news. Turns out that early research is pointing to the possibility that those with PD can be identified by the scent they emit – pruportedly from the oil on our skin. It seems that this is unique to people with PD. The catch is that there are only a small number of people who can detect this – those with superior smell senses or “supersmellers” Here’s the article that discusses this in more detail ( Alexander Sehmer, The Independent, UK, Oct. 22, 2015).

Smell could hold the key to an early diagnosis for Parkinson’s, scientists hope, after a woman dubbed a “supersmeller” detected the debilitating disease by sniffing T-shirts.

Joy Milne, 65, appears to have the uncanny ability to detect Parkinson’s disease by smell.

During lab tests she was able to identify people with Parkinson’s by smelling T-shirts they had slept in. That has lead researchers from the University of Manchester to undertake a project to identify differences in chemicals on the skin of people with Parkinson’s.

It is believed that Parkinson’s may cause changes to the sebum – an oily substance in the skin – resulting in a unique odour so subtle it can only be detected by “supersmellers” like Mrs Milne.

Speaking to the BBC, Mrs Milne said she first noticed the scent on her husband, Les, who died in June after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

She said: “His smell changed and it seemed difficult to describe. It wasn’t all of a sudden. It was very subtle – a musky smell.”

But she only made the link with Parkinson’s after meeting other sufferers, and happened to mention it to a scientist at a talk, leading to tests which found her sense of smell was accurate.

Now the new study, led by Professor Perdita Barran of the University of Manchester and funded by the charity Parkinson’s UK, hopes to find a link which could lead to earlier diagnosis.

Dr Arthur Roach, director of research at Parkinson’s UK, said: “It’s very early days in the research, but if it’s proved there is a unique odour associated with Parkinson’s, particularly early on in the condition, it could have a huge impact.

“Not just on early diagnosis, but it would also make it a lot easier to identify people to test drugs that may have the potential to slow, or even stop Parkinson’s, something no current drug can achieve.”

I have no idea how many “Mrs. Milne’s” or “supersmellers” there are in this world who we could mobilize to sniff out all those with PD but I couldn’t help but wonder whether we might employ a whole different beast in this battle. If I’m not mistaken, dogs are known to have a sense of smell thousands of times more sensitive than humans (maybe only hundreds of times more sensitive than Mrs. MIlne’s or other supersmellers). Perhaps there’s’ a whole new market for aide-dogs here? I may be going out on a limb, or even barking up the wrong tree altogether, but for the sake of science, I am wiling to volunteer our dog, Sam. Send me a T-shirt you or a loved one has slept in and I will let Sam loose on it for a little scratch ‘n sniff!*

*diagnosis is open to human interpretation and should therefore be taken with a degree of caution. Furthermore, neither Sam, nor her handlers, accept responsibility for the return, in whole or in part, of t-shirts forwarded for testing purposes (especially if they are really nice ones like Roots or Threadless). Offer void where prohibited.


It’s not brain surgery


Surely, it can’t be that hard….after all, it’s not brain surgery!

Errr….well…actually…this time it is brain surgery. And it’s coming to your house, live and in full technicolour glory. And while it may not command your attention like a riveting drama or an hilarious sitcom, you couldn’t accuse this reality show of not being a true reflection of reality!

Later this month (October 25 at 9pm EST to be precise) National Geographic Television will air a two hour long episode featuring a live brain surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). For many with Parkinson’s Disease, DBS is seen as a viable – if not essential – surgical procedure to treat their condition.

In brief, DBS is a procedure that targets ares of the brain that control movement in the body. Two holes are drilled into the skull and into the brain, where two electrodes are then inserted and strategicaly positioned. Wires to the electrodes are run through the back of the head and out to the front of the chest where they are connected to a surgically implanted battery

According to the shows sponsors (National Geographic Channel and Mental Floss), this program will “take viewers into a cutting-edge operating room during a DBS surgery…where the brain is operated on while the patient is fully awake and able to speak with the neurosurgeons and neurologists. Because the patient is awake, the neurologists know where to target electrodes and then put the patient through a series of tests to determine whether or not they’ve pinpointed the affected area of the brain. The patient will be identified closer to the live taping…we’re giving viewers the chance to share in a life-changing medical experience, as it is happening, to highlight the extraordinary talent and commitment of a renowned medical team and institution, and to illuminate the wonders and complexities of the human brain.”

From the perspective of the participating hospital (University Hospitals Case Medical Centre, Cleveland Ohio), there is the expressed hope that “…this live broadcast of a deep brain stimulation surgery will educate viewers and offer a comprehensive look at this cutting-edge surgery”. Within the hospital’s high-tech operating room, “production will furnish two manned, handheld cameras in the operating room, as well as several robotic cameras with inputs directly into the doctors’ surgical equipment. As a result, throughout the live broadcast, viewers will see EXACTLY what the neurosurgery team is seeing: up-close, live images of the brain as it is being operated on in real time”.

Reading about this program, it certainly strikes me as being “must-watch TV” for people with Parkinson’s who are considering such a procedure, as well as those whose lives have been touched by someone with PD. Personally, my Neurologists have, on several occasions, encouraged me to have DBS surgery. I even went through the lengthy testing and review to qualify for the procedure but, in the end, and at least for the time being, I have decided not to pursue this as an option. Again, for me personally, I feel it is too invasive a procedure to warrant what benefits it would provide for my condition. Still, I’ll likely be glued to my set for this one!

Update: Just released: Info on the patient having this surgery can be found here.


1:12 Scale Thanksgiving Dinner by fairchildart, deviantart
1:12 Scale Thanksgiving Dinner
by fairchildart, deviantart

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada and, as usual, I’ve been thinking about all that I have to be thankful for. Like the proverbial turkey, I’m stuffed to the brim! This year, I thought I’d share this in a more public fashion through my blog. It may be a little self-indulgent, but permit my excess. If it’s not to your taste, and you are so inclined, feel free to scroll down through the “meal” and all its accouterments and head straight for the dessert. Bon appetite!

the aperitif 

♥ the folks that i meet regularly and make my day – from the postal carrier to my neighbours to fellow dog walkers. While the cast changes with the seasons and through the years, they are a constant.

♥ those in the service industry – from the grocery store cashier to the tradesperson to the civil servant – whom I encounter that enjoys their work, are genuinely helpful, and can make or break a day.

the appetizers

♥ my classmates – people who I see every week at dance class or in aqua therapy, or whatever weekly pursuit happens to be the “soup-du-jour” of my continuing education!

♥ on-line communities – I belong to a number of on-line information and/or support groups –  a lot of them related to PD. These are often a source of good information, discussion and even entertainment. Almost daily I make time, even but for a few minutes, to these groups

the turkey (or Tofurkey if u prefer)

♥ my family – my parents and my sister are unwavering in their support. I cannot imagine how I would have got along without them. I am truly indebted to them

♥ my children – though well on their way to becoming their own persons, and not my children, they’re still young enough to be embarrassed by signs of public affection so…T,E & W…thank you and lots of love, Dad

♥ my wife – it can’t be easy married to me and my PD – requires a well of strength that one might not expect! I’m also in many ways not the man she married yet she perseveres.

the sides

♥ my friends – despite everything I’ve done (or haven’t done) over the years, I have a group of friends from school, work and my “retirement” years, who I am so appreciative of. They are not really “sides” to this “meal” – they’re just as important as the “main dish” but this isn’t a vegan meal. We gotta have turkey. We gotta have sides!

♥ my extended family – my aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, out-laws (former in-laws), ex’s, etc. – see above! Too many to mention, too much they have given!

♥ my teachers, my mentors, my employers, the leaders who took a chance on me and hired me – I am ingratitude (cue Celine Dion – I think i can fly!)

♥ my medical team – I’m fortunate to live in Canada and to have had routinely good care and support from a range of health care staff. Truly dedicated to helping.

the dessert

♥ the readers of my blog – especially those who have been long-suffering followers – it’s very special that you have cared enough to read my rants and raves and to give me feedback through it all. Much appreciated.

the after dinner espresso

♥ to cast of thousands that, through the years, have touched my life in perhaps subtle, but incomparable, ways and haven’t been mentioned above. I think of the kids I taught in elementary school, parents of my kids’ friends, my teammates (baseball, football, hockey), my early classmates, radio folk, deaf and hard of hearing consumers whom I worked for, musicians and artists and writers I have known or admired, work associates, Board members and so many in the voluntary and educational  sectors! Though my memory sometimes fails, inevitably something will trigger a thought – ring that bell – and your presence reverberates through my being once more. Thank you. Ring them bells!