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Strides in Research Promising for Seniors with Parkinson's Disease

I have always been a fan of the movie Back to the Future and specifically Michael J. Fox. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease [PD] as a young adult, it seemed confusing to me that someone so young could have a disease that typically presented in seniors over the age of 60. After a bit of research though, I learned that of the entire population of Parkinson’s sufferers, only 15% are under the age of 50.

Back in 2017 when I blogged about Parkinson’s, there was still no definitive cause for the disease. However, thanks to millions of dollars in funding provided by the Michael J. Fox Foundation and a myriad of clinical trials, science has come a long way in finding links to possible causes, and medications have been developed to slow the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms.

One of these studies conducted by Iowa State University biomedical researchers suggests exposure to some metals, like manganese, can contribute to the onset of Parkinson's-like symptoms.

“Anumantha Kanthasamy, a Clarence Hartley Covault Distinguished Professor in veterinary medicine and the Eugene and Linda Lloyd Endowed Chair of Neurotoxicology, said the research details how manganese exposure can lead to misfolded proteins in the brain, which cause a neurological disease.”

Understanding this link can help doctors and patients through early detection and treatment. Yes, I said treatment!

Michael J Fox, now 57, and his wife Tracy Pollan were guests on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on World Parkinson’s Day, April 11th, where they discussed a new medication that helps the symptoms of Parkinson’s, which they hope one day will lead to a cure for this neurologically degenerative condition.

After almost two decades and $800 million invested in research by the foundation, Fox explained, "Our ultimate goal is to find a cure and go out of business. We went in to business to go out of business...We're zoning in now on what are the precursors to Parkinson's, who's going to get it, before they get it. And then hopefully we can treat them with some way to stall it and stop symptoms from ever developing."

With these promising developments we can all feel hopeful that one day, there may be a cure. Fox recently spoke candidly in an interview with New York Times Magazine columnist David Marchese about this:

“I still believe in a cure. For so long Sinemet L-dopa was the gold standard. That was all we had, and it gave relief but it only lasted a certain amount of time and led to dyskinesias and other side-effects. So it was important to find better treatments. There's a new drug that's been approved that's like a rescue inhaler for when you freeze…freezing is a very real thing for Parkinson's patients. I could be sitting here with my foot on fire and a glass of water over there on the table and all I'd be able to do is think about how good it would feel to pour that water on my foot. Treatments for that can make a huge difference in people's lives. Now, if we can prophylactically keep Parkinson's symptoms from developing in a person, is that a cure? No. Would I take it? Yes.”

The Foundation has invested in the development of “Inbrija – an inhaled levodopa powder for "off" episodes – which was recently approved by the FDA, allowing accelerated development of the new drug to meet an urgent need within the patient community. With this approval and another FDA decision expected about “Sunovion's under-the-tongue apomorphine,” there is real hope for the future for PD sufferers, including seniors with Parkinson’s Disease.

So, how do you know if the symptoms being experienced are due to old age, or are symptoms of PD in seniors you know and love?

According to Rachael Dolhoun, MD, and the MJFF website, “Unfortunately both arthritis and Parkinson's stiffness (and often pain, as well) are worse in the mornings and after prolonged inactivity, so that usually doesn't differentiate the two. Logging symptoms in relation to PD drug administration may help, though. If stiffness and pain reoccur when medication wears off, or if they improve when PD medications take effect, then your stiffness or pain may be due to PD.”

Neuropsychological testing for PD may be in order if tremors appear, and memory and cognitive thinking (planning and organizing), begin to fail, because these aspects may be “impacted” by PD. Neuropsychological testing can examine cognitive issues and the characteristics thereof, to determine whether they are due to PD or possibly other conditions.

Another similarity between old age and Parkinson’s Disease is a slowing of gait and general movements. It’s true. We do tend to slow down as we age. After all, there is a realistic fear of falling that exists in aging adults, especially if we’ve battled gravity before and lost.

However, Dr. Dolhoun says, “Shuffling gait, reduced swinging of one arm while walking and freezing episodes are not normal changes in walking that occur with getting older. If you do have Parkinson's, walking and balance problems can be part of the disease, but as with other symptoms, they could be due to other conditions as well. It's important to first discuss them with your doctor to ensure they are fully evaluated. Then, if your doctor approves, work with a physical therapist.”

A physical therapist with expertise in neurological functions can examine a person’s balance, gait and posture to determine if changes may be due to PD, age, or some other condition.

The point is it may be quite difficult to differentiate between natural aging, PD, and other conditions. Symptoms of PD can mimic that of getting old, so it is important to stay in tune with your body and in communication with your healthcare team to differentiate between conditions.

If you or a loved one suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, I can help by providing a compassionate caregiver to assist with transportation assistance to and from doctor and PT appointments; pharmacy pick-ups; as well as challenging tasks like meal preparation, light housekeeping, personal hygiene and more. I am happy to offer a FREE Consultation to discuss specific needs, and create a personalized care plan to help make life a little easier.

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award for 2017, 2018 & 2019. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠  727.942.2539


Michael J. Fox Foundation

Davis Phinney Foundation

Science Daily

Bloomberg Opinion