Michael J. Fox has been the face of Parkinson’s disease since being diagnosed with it more than 30 years ago. The star of such hit movies as Back to the Future and the television series Family Ties has done countless commercials and interviews over the years to educate people about this insidious affliction. But did you know champion boxer Muhammad Ali, former Attorney General Janet Reno, world famous evangelist Billy Graham and songbird Linda Ronstadt also are victims of the disease?

Parkinson’s affects an estimated seven to ten million individuals worldwide. That’s why April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, a period designed for people to get involved and donate time and money to help find medicines, therapies and solutions that will eventually eradicate the disease.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder causing stiffness, shaking and problems with coordination, walking and balance. The root cause of Parkinson’s disease is not fully understood, however a role is played by both genes and the environment. Parkinson’s symptoms include:

  • Mental changes
  • Palsy
  • Behavioral shifts
  • Sleep issues
  • Difficulty talking

Parkinson’s disease is extremely frustrating as even eating, chewing, and swallowing become difficult over time. Not surprisingly depression sets in with many Parkinson’s sufferers but often antidepressant medications can help.  Dementia becomes common in the advanced stages of the disease.

What Can You Do to Get Involved?

The American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA) suggests people use April to focus on their health issues and do positive things such as joining a support group or setting an appointment with a neurologist for a Parkinson’s screening if they feel they are exhibiting any of the symptoms. Seeking treatment early can make a dramatic difference. Your loved one can live better with Parkinson’s if the best possible team is behind them.

A big event in the Parkinson’s community is the Moving Day walk that takes place across the country in April and parts of May in support of Parkinson’s disease. You can find a Moving Day walk schedule here, and a schedule for the Optimism Walk to help raise awareness and show your support of Parkinson’s Disease. During April, the APDA also will post encouraging and educational messages on its social media.

Of course, Michael J. Fox is in the thick of Parkinson’s Awareness month. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research contains a plethora of information. People can take proactive measures on Fox’s website to get involved including becoming a policy advocate, joining his Buddy Network or most importantly registering to be part of the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative which records the progression of people with Parkinson’s over time.

Genetic Testing Extremely Important in the Fight Against Parkinson’s 

PD GENEration: Mapping the Future of Parkinson’s Disease is a national project offering genetic testing for clinically relevant Parkinson’s-related genes and genetic counseling free for people dealing with Parkinson’s disease. Genetic testing is a potent means of discovering genes that cause Parkinson’s disease. This information helps improve treatments for Parkinson’s sufferers. Pinpointing differences in the genes of people with Parkinson’s can uncover reasons why people react to the disease differently from case to case.  The testing can also assist in determining who can take part in various clinical trials.

There is even an at home test which is easy to use. Here is how it works:

  • You consent to the study through a video call
  • An at-home kit will assist in doing a cheek swab
  • A genetic counselor on video will review your test results which are available in two months.

Diverse participation in research can improve treatments and therapies for Parkinson’s patients and hopefully produce a future where the disease no longer exists.

Greater Waterbury Imaging Center, GWIC, encourages you be aware of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and contact a neurologist immediately if yourself or a loved one exhibit any signs of the disease.  Early diagnosis and treatment makes a significant difference for those afflicted with Parkinson’s. Continue to take care of yourself and remember to contact us for all your medical imaging needs.