The Pulse
4:15 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

Parkinson Disease, Depression, And Hope

There's news today that the late, great comedian Robin Williams had Parkinson disease. We may never know whether that influenced his decision to take his own life. But I thought I'd take this opportunity to let you know a bit more about the disease - in particular the depression that can accompany it - and the resources available in Rhode Island.

What is Parkinson Disease?
Parkinson is a motor system disorder, caused by the loss of brain cells that produce a chemical called dopamine. It's chronic, progressive, and debilitating. You might think of the classic Parkinson symptom of tremors or trembling, but there's more to it than that. From the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:

"The four primary symptoms of PD are tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination. As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks....Other symptoms may include depression and other emotional changes; difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and speaking; urinary problems or constipation; skin problems; and sleep disruptions."

There's no cure. There's no blood test to diagnose it. But there are meds that help ease symptoms considerably, it seems. And there's lots of research going on to try to find a cure and figure out why Parkinson disease develops in certain people in the first place. That's great news for the estimated 1 million Americans who have it.

Help in Rhode Island
There are some resources for people with this disease and their families right here in Rhode Island. Here's a map of support groups, thanks to the Rhode Island chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association.

There are clinical studies underway in our area to learn more about Parkinson Disease. Here are a couple underway in Rhode Island right now (at least, according to clinicaltrial.gov). I can't vouch for them, but I can tell you that this is a good place to look for opportunities to help scientists understand this disease. Another good way to find out about clinical trials is to ask your doctor.

And there's a huge focus on brain research in Rhode Island now, a convergence of talent, money, and interest in tackling some of the most debilitating neurological disorders. That might not mean much to you if you or someone you love has Parkinson. But perhaps it's heartening to know that there are a lot of smart people right here in your backyard working on this. Right now.

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