Many of us of a certain age will remember the shock on learning that actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 37. While the diagnosis was a tragedy for the actor, his family, friends and legions of fans, it did much to put a face on Parkinson’s.
Some 100,000 Canadians live with Parkinson’s Disease – and about 6,600 other Canadians join their ranks each and every year, with the average age being 60. Most of us know someone living with Parkinson’s, and so we owe it to ourselves – and to them – to learn more about this illness, which will become increasingly common as Canada’s population ages.
Parkinson’s is characterized by tremors, rigid muscles and problems moving, mood changes, depression and cognitive impairments, caused by a loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Dopamine is a chemical released by nerve cells that sends signals to other nerve cells. When dopamine is absent, signals can’t get sent. Why do brain cells lose dopamine? We don’t know yet. Unlike most illnesses, neither the environment nor genetics seems to play a significant role.
Medications and treatments continue to improve, and expectations are high that therapies to stop and even reverse the disease will be available within two decades.
Parkinson’s presents us with a significant challenge. But like polio, smallpox and even HIV/AIDS, it can be overcome. It’s up to us individually and as a society to ensure that victory comes soon.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, First Vice-President/Treasurer