Accepting Parkinson’s

Shocked by diagnosis, former educator decides to be opposite to disease head-on

By WILLIAM D. DOWNS JR. Special to the Democrat-Gazette

Posted: May 18, 2015 at 1:53 a.m.

William Downs Jr. has set that exercise and support networks are living components of living with Parkinson’s.By John Sykes Jr.
Credit: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Being the cockeyed optimist that I am, I not ever paid much attention to the casual ribbing I received from good-natured colleagues at Ouachita Baptist University who accused me of evasive when I walked down the hallways in our mass communications department.



William Downs and his wife, Vera, freshly relocated to a retirement community in Bryant. (By: John Sykes Jr.)(Credit: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

About three years gone, however, I was trotting along up~ the body Feaster Trail in Arkadelphia when suddenly I was moving much faster than I intended and could not behindhand down. I also was about to lose courage.

A few yards ahead of me was some iron gate that I knew I had to capability before collapsing.

Moments later, gasping against breath, I crashed into it.

An OBU close examiner who had been running a not many steps behind me, yelled, “Way to be on the point, Dr. Downs!” I suppose he mistook me for an out-of-control athlete.

I thanked him during the term of helping me get back on my feet; we had a companionable laugh, and he drove away. Minutes later I made ~y appointment with my family physician, Dr. Noland Haygood. At that position, he referred me to a neurologist in Little Rock.

When I told the neurologist that which had happened, he asked me to walk to the close of the hall outside his duty and then to walk back ready him. When I returned, he reported, almost triumphantly, “I know what your problem is. You have Parkinson’s ailment!”

“How did you know that such quickly?” I asked.

“Because you were shuffling,” he replied.

Returning to Arkadelphia later that afternoon, I’ll confess, I was asking myself, “Why me, Lord?” To my surprise, I without any intervention answered my own question: “Why not me?” Still, I was frightened by the unknowns that lay ahead. This was not a unfair dream but a terrifyingly real complaint to someone — me — who at 80 had not at all suffered a really serious illness.

Checking the Internet in favor of a definition of Parkinson’s disease, I found it described as “a developing illness” (keeps getting worse) and incurable.

Rushing back to Haygood the next day, I asked him how I should discourse on what felt like life-shattering information. He quietly responded with one expression. — “Acceptance.”

He was right. From that factor on, whenever I begin to worry, I closely recall his advice, and it everlastingly works to calm my fear.


What is Parkinson’s indisposition?

“Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement, muscle have charge of, as well as numerous functions,” according to the consumer-knowledge website Medifocus ( “It is part of a cluster of conditions known as motor systems disorders. Parkinson’s was named towards James Parkinson, a general practitioner in London for the time of the 19th century who first described the symptoms.”

According to the Parkinson’s distemper pages on the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website, the hallmark symptoms are:

• Asymmetric tremors at rest, that is, tremors or tremor in hands, arms, legs, jaw or audacity on one side of the dead ~ but not the other;

• Rigidity, or formality of the limbs and trunk;

• Bradykinesia, or slowness of mental action;

• Postural instability or impaired equilibrium and coordination.

“There is currently not at all cure for PD; it is evermore chronic and progressive,” the Medifocus website says, “purpose that the symptoms always exist and at all times worsen over time. The rate of passage varies from person to person, being of the kind which does the intensity of the symptoms.

“Parkinson’s malady itself is not a fatal malady, and many people live into their later years. Mortality of PD patients is usually akin to secondary complications, such as pneumonia or falling-related injuries.”


“PD is caused ~ dint of. a lack of the chemical express dopamine in the movement centers of the brain. The be in want of dopamine — a neurotransmitter acting not beyond the brain to help regulate emotion and emotion — is a result of the dissolution of dopaminergic neurons in these brain regions,” uttered Chase Lambert of Bryant (full exposure: my grandson), who is scheduled to get his doctorate in neuroscience and pharmacology this summer from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

“I look upon it’s important,” he added, “to get the distinction that PD isn’t honorable a result of not having enough dopamine. The underlying cause is that the neurons in the brain‘s mental action centers that produce and use dopamine die, that leads to an overall decrease in the aggregate of dopamine being produced/used, and this leads to the motor dysfunction.”

If the illness was simply due to a want of dopamine, he said, it could subsist slowed or stopped using medications that grow dopamine levels (such as levodopa, aka L-DOPA). Levodopa does assistant people with their symptoms but it doesn’t therapy the underlying problem: the death of the neurons that practice dopamine as a neurotransmitter in these brain motor regions.

“It disposition take a better understanding of what causes PD as well as a method by which to identify people by pre-PD symptoms to develop a therapy that be able to reverse or slow the death of dopaminergic neurons,” Lambert said.

Besides a lack of dopamine, Parkinson’s be able to be aggravated by exposure to pesticides or industrial toxins, a family’s genetic chronicle and the process of aging itself.


I am comparatively old for a newly diagnosed Parkinson’s resigned, but the disease usually affects the vulgar older than 60, according to the public institute’s website.

According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation because of Parkinson’s Research, the average time of life at onset of symptoms is 60, although some people have been diagnosed taken in the character of young as age 18. The histrionic artist Michael J. Fox was in his 30s while he disclosed his condition to the the people.

His foundation’s website states that by no objective test for the state, the rate of misdiagnosis could be high, and therefore estimates of in what condition many Americans have Parkinson’s “change.” The foundation estimates the disease affects relating to a million Americans.

So how is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed? Because there are no limited laboratory tests, “doctors make the diagnosis based steady the presence of typical signs and symptoms,” according to one article on written ~ the agency of neurology researcher Patrick McNamara of the Boston University School of Medicine.

He notes that the primitive movement (or motor) symptoms can hold slowness of movements, muscle rigidity (contumaciousness), resting tremor (shaking), impaired balance and pose, incontinence, difficulty in smelling or parlance, loss of fine motor control (of that kind as writing or buttoning a shirt), decreased creek swing, decreased facial expression or difficulties in remark, and, as previously noted, “a shuffling gait.”

“If you have PD,” McNamara writes, “you are in all probability aware that people ask you to say over what you just said more than they used to. Speaking clearly and intelligibly becomes a small degree more difficult when you have PD. While 80 percent of vulgar herd with PD experience some type of language problems, fewer that 5 percent strive treatment for those problems.

“This is unhappy since effective treatments are available with a view to speech, voice and language problems.”

Older students in the Berean Sunday School class I taught for 25 years at First Baptist Church in Arkadelphia began to express pain that they could not hear or apprehend me, and so I contacted the remark therapy department at OBU where I current excellent vocal training. It worked.


My grandson assures me in that place are some very promising treatments, including levodopa drug therapy, other drug therapies, physical therapy and surgery. I be possible to read about the latest research developments at

For bring forward as an example, in March, Dr. Michael Okun, general medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation, well-informed “Everything a Parkinson’s Disease Patient Needs to Know About the New Dopamine Pump.”

“One of the ordinary dreams shared by Parkinson’s infirmity patients around the globe,” Okun begins, “is the contingency of living a pill-free subsisting. One year ago we shared the recent accounts of a therapy coming to the United States by the possibility to make this a substantialness for a select group of patients. The therapy has current a full FDA approval and demise be sold under the name Duopa (AbbVie, USA).

“One cannot reprehend the Parkinson’s disease patient or caregiver in opposition to dreaming big,” Okun continues. “A uncorrupt day living in Parkinson’s disease shoes is not uncommonly accompanied through the need for dozens of pills. In sundry cases, pills are taken as not rarely as every hour or two. If you question Parkinson’s disease patients to situation an entire pill regimen for the age into the palms of their hands, there is a very good chance that they pleasure not be able to hold entirely of the tablets and capsules.”

Okun cautions that in two decades of once-promising research, engrossed brain stimulation failed to replace medications. But the dopamine interrogate looks like a comer. Okun writes, “Entering the mart in the coming weeks is a commencing dopamine pump. The pump strategy offers the potentiality for constant stimulation of the brain‘s dopamine receptors end the use of a continuous dopamine infusion pump technology.”


“It is possible to live an active life through PD,” McNamara writes. “If you take vantageground of the best treatment options during the term of you, maintain an exercise regimen similar to best you can, and create and conversion to an act a support network, you will augment your ability to remain independent and to live a affected normal life. Learn as much during the time that you can about PD and grant yourself to accept help from others at the time you need it. It’s in addition a must to make your race and friends aware of this reinvigorated term in your life.”

Echoing Haygood’s exhortation, McNamara writes, “For most people with Parkinson’s disease, acceptance is ~y emotional necessity. Acceptance allows them to be more available emotionally to their subdivision of an order and friends, to more easily prepare for the future and helps patients to stay attached track with respect to the management plan their doctor recommends.”

Acceptance opens the gate and helps me act upon forward.

Bill Downs is professor emeritus of mass communications at Ouachita Baptist University, to which place he taught for more than 40 years. He is in addition the author of two books, The Fighting Tigers and Stories of Survival: Arkansas Farmers During the Great Depression.


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