At first, the clues were subtle. Paul Wing noticed that his depth perception seemed wonky, and that he couldn’t make certain movements as quickly and easily as he had before.
Ultimately, the Ottawa resident would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
While tremor can be one of the symptoms of this progressive neurological disorder, it’s only present in about 60 percent of people with Parkinson’s. Stiffness or rigidity — sometimes sensed as pain in the shoulder or hip — on one side of the body is another potential clue. Others include slow movements, difficulty with certain small motor tasks (such as brushing teeth or buttoning buttons), trouble rising from chairs, and constipation.
These symptoms stem from a massive die-off of brain cells that are responsible for producing the chemical messenger dopamine (which, among other things, helps regulate movement).
Medications can replace some of the missing dopamine, but they have limitations. For example, they wear off more quickly as PD progresses. Over the long term, these drugs also cause what’s known as dyskinesia, or involuntary movements.
However, in recent years, there have been promising developments on the PD treatment front. For one thing, a growing body of evidence suggests that regular exercise offers a multitude of benefits to people with Parkinson’s. For one thing, it helps maintain motor function, and at least one study has found that a bout of physical activity boosts dopamine production roughly five-fold in PD patients who exercise regularly, versus those who live a more sedentary lifestyle.
My heartfelt thanks to all of the interviewees who so generously shared their time and expertise:
- Quincy Almeida, PhD, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, and director of the Movement Disorders Research and Rehabilitation Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
- Dr. David Grimes, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Clinic at the Ottawa Hospital, and associate scientist with the neuroscience program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.
- Dr. Mandar Jog, professor of neurology at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, and director of the National Parkinson Foundation Centre of Excellence, London Health Sciences Centre, London, Ont.
- Marina Joseph, former director, communications and brand, Parkinson Canada.
- Dr. Ranjit Ranawaya, neurologist specializing in movement disorders, and former director of the Movement Disorders Program at the University of Calgary.
- Paul Wing of Ottawa, Ont.