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Dr. Ryan Walsh Dispels Myths About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease now affects more than a million people in the United States. There is a lot of misinformation circulated about the disease. Ryan Walsh, MD, a neurologist at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, wants to dispel some of the myths. Here is his list of top 10 myths and the truth about them.

1. Parkinson’s disease diagnosis is a fatal condition.

Reality: Parkinson’s is not a fatal condition. It is a progressive disease in the family of neurodegenerative disorders. Currently it is incurable, but that’s no reason to give up hope. Many patients live active and productive lives after being diagnosed. New drugs and surgical therapies are increasingly effective and patients from all over the world are now coming to Barrow Neurological Institute for treatment. Additionally, researchers at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow are aggressively testing new therapies. Many believe Parkinson’s has become a treatable chronic illness, like diabetes.

2. People with Parkinson’s cannot live independent and productive lives.

Reality: While many Parkinson’s patients need some assistance in their daily lives, with medication, regular exercise, and a healthy diet, people with the disease can often live in their own homes and enjoy productive lives.

3. Only older people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Dr. Ryan Walsh
Barrow Neurologist

Reality: A majority of those with Parkinson’s are over the age of 62; however, it is possible to be diagnosed earlier in life. Young-onset Parkinson’s occurs when an individual receives a Parkinson’s diagnosis before they turn 50. Only about 2 percent of the 1 million people with Parkinson’s in the United States are younger than 40. Muhammad Ali was in his 40s when diagnosed. The youngest patient at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center was diagnosed in her 20s.

4. Parkinson’s disease always causes a tremor, and tremors are only a sign of this disease.

Wrong: A tremor is one of the most common symptoms of Parkinson’s; however, not every patient experiences these shaky symptoms and not only Parkinson’s patients shake. The disease is highly individualized, appearing with variations of symptoms and severity in different patients. The main hallmark of the disease is not tremor but slowness of movement. The Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center treats many other movement disorders including the most common tremor type which is actually essential tremor, not Parkinson’s disease.

5. Parkinson’s disease is caused by a genetic mutation.

Reality: Parkinson’s can run in families, which suggests a hereditary factor. However, this occurs in only about 10 percent of families. Furthermore, identifying a causative gene is quite uncommon, even in these families. Most cases occur in people without a family history of the disease. Research has found that even if person has a mutation linked to the disease, this does not always mean the person will get Parkinson’s.

6. Parkinson’s disease is predictable and the same for all patients.

Reality: No two people with Parkinson’s have the same symptoms and the same effectiveness of the treatment options. Parkinson’s is a complex condition that affects different people in different ways. Each person living with Parkinson’s has their own individual experience.  Muhammad Ali’s wife, Lonnie Ali once explained it this way: “Parkinson’s recognizes no titles, respects no achievements, nor bows to any amount of talent, courage, or character. Parkinson’s does not discriminate.”

7. Parkinson’s disease is only a movement-related condition.

Reality: Movement-related issues are the best-known Parkinson’s symptom, but the disease can include a range of other motor and non-motor symptoms. Slowness of movement, rigidity, tremor, and balance issues are among the movement symptoms. But there are a number of other common issues associated with the disease that aren’t often discussed publicly. Patients with Parkinson’s can experience mood symptoms, sleep problems, and cognitive issues which often impact quality of life as much as or more than the movement symptoms.

8. It is contagious.

Reality: No. Parkinson’s is a neurological (occurring in the brain) condition, which is not contagious and cannot be passed on from one person to another.

9. Parkinson’s has limited treatment.

Reality: There are a large number of medications which have been proven effective in treating symptoms of Parkinson’s. Additionally, at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, regular exercise has proven to be one of the best adjunctive treatments. The use of exercise to combat the disease has also found its way into proven medical research. Deep Brain Stimulation, which is a surgery that puts a pacemaker-like device in the brain, is also used in many patients at the Center.

10. A person with Parkinson’s is responsible for it and could have done something to prevent it.

Reality: No one is responsible for acquiring Parkinson’s or can be blamed for having it. It is a neurological condition which could affect anyone – male or female, young or old.

About Barrow

Since our doors opened as a regional specialty center in 1962, we have grown into one of the premier destinations in the world for neurology and neurosurgery. Our experienced, highly skilled, and comprehensive team of neurological specialists can provide you with a complete spectrum of care–from diagnosis through outpatient neurorehabilitation–under one roof. Barrow Neurological Institute: Discover. Educate. Heal.