Muhammad Ali's Health Battle: What is Parkinson's Disease?

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died Friday at age 74 after a lengthy battle against Parkinson’s disease. Ali was diagnosed with the disease in 1984, three years after he retired. In the following years, Parkinson’s began to take away Ali’s motor skills and his ability to speak coherently, but he never strayed from the spotlight.
“Even though Muhammad has Parkinson’s and his speech isn’t what it used to be, he can speak to people with his eyes. He can speak to people with his heart, and they connect with him,” wife Lonnie Ali said.
She said doctors told her the disease was not the result of absorbing too many punches but a genetic condition.
Ten weeks before Ali’s match in 1980 against Larry Holmes, a team of doctors at the Mayo Clinic submitted a medical report to the Nevada State Athletic Commission describing a small hole in his brain’s outer layer and noting that the boxer reported a tingling sensation in his hands and slurred speech. He retired permanently in 1981.
Ali was instrumental in raising awareness of Parkinson’s and in 1997, he and his wife co-founded the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona, to provide comprehensive care for those living with the disease, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. On Saturday the center posted a video in which patients paid tribute to Ali and to his fight against Parkinson’s disease.


“We are saddened by the loss of Muhammad Ali, who faced Parkinson’s disease with great courage and tenacity,” PDF President Robin Elliott said in a statement. “In making his diagnosis public, he provided hope for millions of others and helped the cause immeasurably. We celebrate his extraordinary life and contributions to the cause and send our deepest condolences to his wife Lonnie and his family. In all areas of life, he truly was ‘the Champ’ and ‘the greatest.'”
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease (PD, is also known as idiopathic or primary parkinsonism, hypokinetic rigid syndrome/HRS, or paralysis agitans) is a brain disorder and a progressive disease that leads to persistent movement disorder and worsens over time. It is caused by the loss of dopamine brain cells (neurons). The patient usually experiences uncontrollable shaking and tremors, slow movement, problems in standing up, difficulty in balancing and stiffness in the limbs. It mostly affects the middle-aged and elderly. Idiopathic Parkinson’s disease is the most common type and causes tremors, rigidity and slowness of movement. Although there is no permanent cure, medication and surgery are both available to manage its symptoms. Dr Richard Wade-Martins, University of Oxford is conducting a research on ‘TRAPing Parkinson’s – why do some cells die?’ and he aims to find out why some cells die while others live.
Whom does it affect?
Approximately 1 million people have Parkinson’s disease in the United States, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Men are more likely to get it than women, and it usually affects people over 50.
Causes of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s (PD) is a slowly progressive disease caused by the loss of dopamine brain cells (neurons). Dopamine, are brain cells produced in the substantia nigra of the brain. It is a neurotransmitter and a chemical messenger. Messages are transmitted between the substantia nigra and other parts of the body by dopamine. Dopamine brain cell death causes lesser dopamine. This causes impairment of movement in body parts.
Scientists don’t know what exactly causes these cells to start to deteriorate but believe it’s a combination of genes and environmental causes. About 15% to 25% of Parkinson’s patients have a family member with the disease, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation says.
In some cases, researchers have identified a single gene mutation that’s passed from generation to generation, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Mutations in the LRRK2 gene are the greatest genetic contributor to Parkinson’s disease discovered to date,” the site states. But in most cases, the cause is probably a combination of gene mutations.
Studies have also linked chemicals like TCE and PERC to Parkinson’s, though the relationship has not been proved. “A simple exposure to an environmental toxin is never enough to cause Parkinson’s,” the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation states. “In fact, there is no conclusive evidence that any environmental factor, alone, can be considered a cause of the disease.
Can you treat it?
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, according to the National Institutes of Health, but doctors can help patients cope with symptoms.
A medication called levodopa is often given to patients to help their brains make more dopamine. It’s often prescribed with carbidopa, which helps bring the levodopa into the brain. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved deep brain stimulation, which is also used to treat depression, to reduce symptoms in Parkinson’s patients. Electrodes are implanted into the brain and connected to a small device that emits programmed pulses to help control movement.
Stages of Parkinson’s Disease
Stage I: This is the mildest stage of PD which least interferes with routine tasks. Tremors and other symptoms are restricted to one side of the body.
Stage II: It is a moderate stage in PD where stiffness, tremors and trembling can be noted and facial expressions may change. The symptoms are sensed on both sides of the body.
Stage III: This is the mid-stage in PD, which symbolizes a major change point in PD progression. In addition to loss of balance and decreased flexes, the symptoms mentioned in stage II also occur. Occupational therapy combined with medication may help in decreasing the symptoms.
Stage IV: In this progressive stage, it becomes difficult for the patient to move without a walker or other assistive device. However, the person can stand without assistance.
Stage V: This is the most advanced and debilitating stage of PD. Stiffness in legs may cause freezing when standing. Patients are frequently unable to stand without falling. They may experience hallucinations and occasional delusions.
Community Care and Support 
Though Parkinson’s disease affects an individual, its effects are also faced by their family and friends. Therefore, it is our primary duty to accept people with this disorder and offer timely support and care. Eliminate stigma associated with these patients and stop looking at them differently.
So, on this World Parkinson’s Day, let us strive to,
  • Educate societies about Parkinson’s disease
  • Improve care and treatment for those affected by PD
  • Increase investment in Parkinson’s disease-related research and development
  • Focus on the need of the contribution by all to improve Parkinson’s disease awareness and care