More PD in last 30 years

photo montage by

From time to time, I’ve wondered if it was just me or my perception that more and more people are being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I must admit that I have not spent a lot of time researching this but let’s just say that my eyes have “perked up” of late with developments in this regard.

Parkinson’s Disease was diagnosed almost 200 years ago. It was first described by English physician Dr. James Parkinson in his work entitled An Essay on the Shaking Palsy (1817). Until relatively recently, however, it has not received much attention with respect to medical research on care, treatment, prevention, or cure. In the past few decades, research has received a tremendous boost from organizations like the Michael J Fox Foundation and National Parkinson’s Foundation. Yet this “spurt” of activity, means that we do not have a long history of enquiry to which we can turn. We have very few studies that inform us of the cause for, or the development of, Parkinson’s over a long period of time.

That may be changing. In late June 2016, results of a study in Minnesota were reported on in JAMA Neurology by a group of researchers out of the Mayo Clinic. See a report of it here or to access full study, click here.

Now, before I go further, regular readers of this blog may be asking “Where is the humour in this piece? If I click on the aforementioned links, will one of them lead to a funny picture or some witty story?”. No, I’m afraid not today. The links lead to reports on actual research.. Today’s blog entry is pretty dry. I just couldn’t liven it up 🙂 If you’re still looking for a laugh, perhaps try here. Back to the research…

The study looked at trends in the incidence of parkinsonism and PD over 30 years in a geographically defined American population. While this may be considered a “typical” population, the authors warn about trying to extrapolate too much from the data as the population may not have been as diverse as, or have been exposed to different contributing factors, as other communities.

That being said, I find it interesting that we are getting a bigger picture of this disease. This is the first study to show an increasing trend in recent years in the development of PD. In particular, it is reported that men of all ages had a 17 percent higher risk of developing parkinsonism and 24 percent higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease for every 10 calendar years. The study also showed that men 70 and older had an even greater increase—a 24 percent higher risk of developing parkinsonism and 35 percent higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease for every 10 calendar years. The results for women were similar but not as conclusive.

“We have reasons to believe that this is a real trend,” says Rodolfo Savica, M.D., Ph.D., lead author and neurologist at Mayo Clinic. “The trend is probably not caused merely by changes in people’s awareness or changes in medical practice over time. We have evidence to suggest that there has been a genuine increase in the risk of Parkinson’s disease”. The researchers point to environmental and lifestyle changes as potential causes for the increase.”There has been a dramatic change in exposure to some risk factors in the United States,” Dr. Savica says. “We know that environmental agents like pesticides or smoking or other agents in the environment have changed in the last 70 years or so. Changes in exposure to a number of risk factors may have caused Parkinson’s disease to rise.”

This is an important piece of the PD puzzle – we need not only to confirm if this same trend is replicated elsewhere but indeed to understand what causes Parkinson’s Disease in the first place. I don’t suspect we’ll have to wait another 200 years to move this forward.


I can’t forget (but i don’t remember what)

window, arthur soares, deviantart

When Leonard Cohen droned out these words back in 1988 on his “I’m Your Man” LP,  I’m sure I welcomed them with my usual fervour for this great artist. Besides striking an emotional chord, I appreciated the darker irony and humour of this piece. What I’m sure I didn’t appreciate was how prophetic the title would turn out to be.

You see, Parkinson’s – as well as the aging process in general I’m sure – has begun to rob me of my memory. Not at this stage as emphatically perhaps as Alzheimer’s Disease but a theft all the same. While I experience some short term memory loss for relatively minor everyday things (did I complete that form? where did I put that book? what month was that appointment?), I am frequently reminded of events or people from my past whom I had forgotten. Activities that not only had I forgotten about but that I had absolutely no recollection of! Not one iota. Nothing! It’s pretty alarming.

It can also be invigorating – stoking the embers of memory or, as in a recent case, relighting an otherwise comatose fire. This is what happened with me.

Several weeks ago, I received a standard routine notice from the host site of this blog (wordpress) advising me that I had received a comment that needed to be “moderated”. Nothing unusual about that. I first checked the name of the person whom had sent the comment and, while the name had some passing familiarity, I couldn’t make a connection. It was bit odd that the comment was on one of my first blogs going back some 3 years ago. Odd, but not all that strange.

The comment began by quoting a line from my own blog, and then reeled out a story that, upon first blush, made me think “What the hell is this about?!. What does any of this have to do with living with Parkinson’s?” Here’s what was written:

“A chance for our divergent paths to once again cross. A chance, for those who have paused to wonder “what ever happened to…” to perhaps fill in some blanks.”

Once upon a time, there was a residence in a university in Ontario. Two young ‘uns lived there, with their very own window. A simple window. The window overlooked a space. Through that space, thousands passed each day. Thousands upon thousands of young minds. Eager to think. Eager to be engaged, in a time before Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and…

And one of the young ‘uns decided to use that window. For good. For thought. To challenge. To inspire. To poke, prod, evoke and emote. He put words up in the on a window. Words read by the thousands. Words that caused people to think, to laugh, to love, to celebrate. For an entire year.

“Whatever happened to” the young ‘uns? One… became a teacher. An inspirer-er. A shaper of minds — as the words on the window (and in the newspaper he published) foretold he would. The other… well… went West. To seek fortune and fame and freedom. And mountains. Oh, mountains. And he travelled the world for his career, always remembering that a few words on a window always matter.

But he never forgot his friend who put the words up.

I read it again. Parts of it began to resonate with me. Residence life during first year university…a shared window…putting up letters in a window with messages to passers-by. Suddenly, as if awoken from a stupor, it all came back to me. Images of my first year at McMaster University and my then roommate who I have not seen in 40 years! I was the one putting words up in the window (our only window which we shared!). He was the patient and all too tolerant roommate who would go on to, as he describes it, be the one to travel the world.

This new-found memory brought back the fun I had at the time composing messages on our window and the people I would meet who would comment on it. It reminded me of the arts newspaper I tried to establish with a few others that took inspiration for it’s name from this very act – “Window”. It reminded me of creative, energetic and frenetic times. It reminded me of the thoughtful roommate I had at that time. A roommate, to and for whom, I was likely not as thoughtful.

I am learning to live with many of the‎ challenges presented by PD. Yet, losing memory of such pleasant and soulful times, is troubling. And here comes Derek: a roommate kind enough to open a window and let in a light from that past; to remind me.

That’s one moment that I’ll now never forget (so long as I can just remember what 🙂 )


Father Knows Best



Did every family in the 1950’s live in a friendly suburb with a housewife mom and an insurance salesman father who arrived at day’s end to a home-cooked meal, shared jokes and stories over dinner and offered sage life advice to his children? In retrospect, it sure seems like the “typical” family of the day – sometimes the father was more maudline; sometimes more earnest, but all seemed to be the Robert Young-prototype that was “Father Knows Best”.

That wasn’t my family. I’m sure it wasn’t many of my friends’ families either. My parents both worked, we lived in an apartment for many years. I’m sure these were difficult times for them as they worked without a lot of support to carve out a life for the family. I don’t recall a lot from those early years but I do remember my father worked long hours at a grocery store and always worked to provide his children with more opportunities in life than he had.

I vividly remember though my defiant years as a teenager when, out of ignorance or willful intent, I would induce his wrath or simply invoke disappointment.As I recall, he didn’t really respond in a Robert Young-esque manner to say the least!

When I moved away for post-secondary education, he still didn’t know it all. The time came for him to retire from work in 1983 and he had no plans for his retirement. He was just going to live from day to day. Meanwhile, I was studying gerontology (“old man; the study of”) at university and knew that he was wrong. All the research said you must have plans in place. You can’t just stop work and do nothing. He was making a mistake – he’d probably drop dead within a year. Why would he be so stubbornly uninformed?

Well, some 33 years forward, and you’ll find my Dad quietly proving me wrong. He has never come up with that “plan” but has kept himself occupied and working on a daily basis. While he has had some health challenges through these years, he has continued to be as active as he can be. In fact, as my Parkinson’s has advanced, I find myself looking to him for any secret to his physical stamina.

Apparently, I am not alone. Nor is he.

A recent study at the University of Michigan, and discussed in a recent Foxfeed Blog from The Michael J Fox Foundation, looked at activity levels of older persons with PD.  It suggests that every day physical activity, perhaps more so than vigorous exercise, is associated with less severe motor symptoms. Here’s more of what they reported.

The study team enrolled 48 people with PD, most with moderate severity of disease. Each had an imaging scan to measure brain dopamine change and completed a survey that asked about time spent doing various physical activities — both exercise and other actions such as housework and visiting local events.

They found that increased motor severity (measured by the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale) was associated with decreased duration of non-exercise physical activity even when accounting for brain dopamine change, levodopa medication dose, age and duration of disease. Translation: those people who did more puttering and low-impact activity had less severe motor symptoms. Further analysis showed the biggest impact on slowness, gait and balance, more so than rigidity and tremor.

“The study indicates that disability of Parkinson’s is not just from the brain disease itself but also a consequence of a sedentary lifestyle. Non-exercise physical activity has an independent outcome on patients’ motor impairments…”

More puttering. There’s the rub! No intense, stepped up exercise regime. No marathon biking or running. No marathon anything!  Puttering.

My Dad is 90; 91 come September. As the years have gone by, and as I have had a family of my own, I obviously have come to look at him through a different lens. I don’t know how he had the patience sometimes to put up with some of my antics growing up. I am appreciative of the personal sacrifices he made for his family and for me as his son. I also find myself surprised at the things I’ve learned from him. The latest being this – in my struggle with PD-induced lethargy  and a sedentary lifestyle, his ability to keep active – as much as he is able – to keep puttering – is most certainly one of his enduring strengths.

Maybe, just maybe, in this one case, father knows best. Perhaps.


Robert Young in Father Knows Best