Diet and Dementia (Cognitive Decline) in the Aging

“When diet is wrong medicine is of no use. When diet is correct medicine is of no need.’’ Ancient Ayurvedic Proverb

‘‘What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others.’’ Lucretius (99 B.C.-55 BC).

Précis: Last month in London, England, at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017, there were several presentations focused on diet and the link with dementia/cognitive decline in the elderly population.  Two reports described the effect of specific diets [Mediterranean, DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), and NPDP (Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern)] to maintain cognitive function in the aging population. In another study, the MIND diet was shown to reduce dementia in the women from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS).  Finally, it was shown that either the absence or excess of certain vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients could promote neuro-inflammation, which would be detrimental to the brain. This post reviews elements of these presentations.

“One should eat to live, not live to eat.” Moliere

A Healthy Body and Brain Combine Diet, Life-style, and Attitude: It is easy to say what it takes to be healthy; however, approaching/achieving/accomplishing it takes a concerted effort. In a minimal sense, achieving a healthy body and brain unites an efficient diet, an effective lifestyle, and a positive attitude.  Thus, a healthy body and brain requires a collective approach to living properly (and it helps to have good genes).

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” Jim Rohn

Inflammation and Parkinson’s: One of the many suggested causes of Parkinson’s is neuro-inflammation (see figure below).  The impact of diet promoting inflammation and cognitive decline in the aging population got my interest.  The combination of eating too much of ‘bad’ foodstuff with too little of some ‘good’ food components somehow promotes neuro-inflammation that contributes to the development of dementia. If the goal of my blog is related to Parkinson’s, what is the goal of this particular post? To present the notion that detrimental effects of neuro-inflammation could diminish brain function. And it’s this ‘possibility’ that makes the story relevant to this blog because neuro-inflammation is linked to the development of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  Therefore, the specific pathway to how you develop that inflammation of the brain is relevant and an important topic.

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“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Diet Linked to Neuro-inflammation: There’s an old phrase “You Are What You Eat”, which simply means it’s critical to eat good food in order to stay healthy and fit. Building on solid evidence that eating well is brain healthy, researchers are beginning to explore mechanisms through which dietary mechanisms may influence cognitive status and dementia risk. Dr. Gu and colleagues (Columbia University, New York) examined whether an inflammation-related nutrient pattern (INP) was associated with changes in cognitive function and structural changes in the brain. Gu, Y., et al. (An Inflammatory Nutrient Pattern Is Associated Both Structural and Cognitive Measures of Brain Aging in the Elderly) presented a follow-up study to earlier work using brain scans (MRI) combined with levels of inflammatory makers [C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6)] and cognitive function studies of >300 community-dwelling elderly people who were non-demented.

They created what was termed an “InflammatioN-related Pattern (INP) where increased levels of CRP and IL-6 were found in participants with low dietary intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, calcium, folate and several water- and fat-soluble vitamins (including B1, B2, B5, B6, D, and E) and increased consumption of cholesterol, beta-carotene and lutein. The INP was derived from a 61-item food frequency questionnaire that the study participants answered about their food intake during the past year. Study participants with this ‘INP-diet-pattern’ also had poorer executive function scores and smaller total brain gray matter volume compared to study participants with a healthier diet.  The strength of the study was the scientific precision and methodology; however, it was not directly comparing one diet to another.  Further studies are needed to verify the role of diet to induce neuro-inflammation-related changes in dementia (cognitive health).  Furthermore, mechanistic insight is needed to understand how a diet with either an absence or an excess of certain nutritional components promotes neuro-inflammation to alter brain function and structure. Their results imply that a poor diet promotes dementia and smaller brain volume in the aging brain through a neuro-inflammatory process.

“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.” Ann Wigmore

What is Good for Your Heart is Good for Your Brain: The Mediterranean diet, a diet of a type traditional in Mediterranean countries, characterized especially by a high consumption of vegetables and olive oil and moderate consumption of protein, is usually thought to confer healthy-heart benefits. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet was developed to help improve cardiovascular health, especially hypertension. The DASH diet is simple: eat more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods; cut back on foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats; eat more whole-grain foods, fish, poultry, and nuts; and limit sodium, sweets, sugary drinks, and red meats. Neurologists have merged the two diets, creating the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, or MIND diet; testing the hypothesis that if it’s good for the heart it will be good for the brain.   The MIND diet is gaining attention for its potential positive effects on preserving cognitive function and reducing dementia risk in older individuals. In an earlier study, Morris et al. (Alzheimer’s Dement. 2015; 11:1015-22) found that  individuals on the MIND diet showed less cognitive decline as they aged.

Moving to 2017, Dr. McEvoy and colleagues (University of California, San Francisco) studied ~6000 older adults in the Health and Retirement Study. They showed that the study participants who followed either the MIND or the Mediterranean diets were more likely to maintain strong cognitive function in old age (McEvoy, C., et al. Neuroprotective Dietary Patterns Are Associated with Better Cognitive Performance in Older US Adults: The Health and Retirement Study). Their results also showed that study participants with either of these healthier diets had significant retention of cognitive function.

The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” Thomas A. Edison

The Nordic Prudent Dietary Pattern (NPDP) Protects Cognitive Function: The NPDP includes both more frequent and less frequent food consumption categories: More frequent consumption of non-root vegetables, apple/pears/peaches, pasta/rice, poultry, fish, vegetable oils, tea and water, and light to moderate wine intake; Less frequent intake of root vegetables, refined grains/cereals, butter/margarine, sugar/sweets/pastries, and fruit juice. Dr. Xu and colleagues (Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden) studied the relationship of diet to cognitive function in >2,200 dementia-free community-dwelling adults in Sweden (Xu,W., et al. Which Dietary Index May Predict Preserved Cognitive Function in Nordic Older Adults). During six years of evaluation, they reported that study participants with moderate loyalty to the NPDP had better cognitive function compared to study participants who deviated more frequently from the NPDP.  The scientists noted that, in the Scandinavian population studied, the NPDP was better at maintaining cognitive function compared to other diets (Mediterranean, MIND, DASH, and Baltic Sea).

“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.” Gilbert K. Chesterton

Women on the MIND Diet are Less Likely to Develop Dementia: Dr. Hayden and colleagues (Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina) studied diet and dementia in >7,000 participants from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS) (Hayden, K., et al. The Mind Diet and Incident Dementia, Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study).   The study showed that older women who followed the MIND diet were less likely to develop dementia. These results were obtained by stratification of the WHIMS  participants from very likely to very unlikely to adhere to the MIND diet; they were  assessed for almost 10 years.  Their results imply that it may not require drastic diet changes to help preserve the aging brain.

“It’s not about eating healthy to lose weight. It’s about eating healthy to feel good.” Demi Lovato

Diet and Dementia in the Aging Brain: Four different studies with similar results; diet can  influence dementia and cognitive function in the aging brain.  The single most important finding in these studies was simply that a good diet helps maintain a healthy brain. Strong evidence was presented in three of the studies that the Mediterranean, the MIND and NPBP are excellent diets to help maintain cognitive function as we age.  Mechanistic studies to further demonstrate the link of dietary components with an increase in neuro-inflammation  would be most interesting. A confounding issue is that overall health and a healthy brain are more than just diet alone.  To reduce the chance of cognitive decline and dementia, it’s important to remember as we get older to protect our brain by eating well, exercise regularly, and exercise our brain by becoming lifelong learners (see Word Cloud below).

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“The older I get, the more vegetables I eat. I can’t stress that more. Eating healthy really affects my work. You not only need to be physically prepared, but mentally and spiritually.” James Badge Dale

 Cover photo credit:  C.J. Reuland

 

 

Part 1 of 2017 PWR! (Parkinson Wellness Recovery) Retreat: Pictures With Great Memories

“Just put one foot in front of the other.”  Austin Peck

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”  Henry Ford

Introduction to Part 1: From May 28-June 3, >100 people came to Scottsdale, Arizona for the PWR! Retreat. The final tally had >50 people-with-Parkinson’s, more than 30 care partners and ~20 physical therapists/fitness professionals, and PWR! Gym staff.

Simply stated,  participating in my first PWR! Retreat was life-altering, life-changing and possibly even life-saving. It will be hard to put into words what the week meant to me and  what it did for me.

I have decided to write 2 posts describing the PWR! Retreat,  Part 1 contains: (i) overview of week; (ii) instructors; (iii) impressions of format, instructors, teams, and location; and (iv) video presentation describing the entire week.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”  Helen Keller

Video presentation describing the entire week:   I want to begin with the finale and show a video compiled to highlight the week of the PWR! Retreat. The vast majority of pictures shown in the video were either taken by or obtained from Claire McLean. A few things I want to highlight about the PWR! Retreat that you will see in the video include the following: a) it was a tremendous amount of fun; b) it was a lot of work physically because we exercised several hours every day; c) there was total camaraderie and synergy throughout the week; d)  every afternoon was spent being educated about Parkinson’s; e)  the physical therapists/fitness professionals that led our sessions were all outstanding people and really knew how to work well with everyone with Parkinson’s, and f)  the week revolved around the exercise program and philosophy created by Dr. Becky Farley  (Founder and CEO of Parkinson Wellness Recovery), and in reality, she was the reason we were all at the PWR! Retreat.

Assembling the pictures and putting it all together into the video format left me somewhat speechless. The video brought back so many wonderful memories of the interactions with everybody and it reminded me of the intensity of the exercise.  Watching the video allowed me to recall the sheer quality and quantity of the education  program presented, and it let me reminiscence about the sincerity and friendliness of everyone present.   It just felt like everyone wanted to be at the PWR! Retreat every single second of that week.

Video of 2017 PWR! Retreat: Pictures With Great Memories (to access the YouTube site, please click here).

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Walt Disney

PWR! Retreat agenda and overview of the week (Click here to view Program ): There were basically two-sessions per day.  The morning always began for everyone with a PWR-Walk with poles at 6:30 AM, then breakfast and then separate programs for those of us with Parkinson’s (exercise) and Care Partners (a mixture of education sessions, group discussions and/or exercise), and sometimes we were combined together (which was always fun). Lunch was next.  The afternoon session was usually all-inclusive of participants and we listened to experts discuss many aspects of Parkinson’s, we had group discussions, and we had sessions of yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and other modalities (e.g., deep-brain stimulation surgery or DBS) used to treat Parkinson’s. The day usually ended at 5:30 PM and dinner was on our own.  Many came back after dinner to the game room, we had a dance night, I played golf on 4 different evenings, many of us returned to the resort bar/club to socialize and many people checked in early because an 11-hour day was incredibly fun but also it was tiring. All-in-all, the agenda was completell, well-rounded, and most enjoyable.  We were never bored.

“I find that the best way to do things is to constantly move forward and to never doubt anything and keep moving forward, if you make a mistake say you made a mistake.”  John Frusciante

PWR! Retreat instructors (brief biographies of the people who led our instructions; presented in alphabetical order after Dr. Farley):  To me, exercise  was the most important aspect of the retreat, followed by meeting everyone with Parkinson’s, and then equally important, the educational program.   Therefore, I want to present the physical therapists/fitness professionals, volunteers and staff that provided us our workout each day.  Each person was uniquely qualified; in my opinion, together as a team they have no equal. Here are a few comments about each one of the instructors.

•Dr. Becky Farley has a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Arizona, a Masters of science physical therapy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a bachelor of physical therapy from the University of Oklahoma.  During her post-doctorate, she developed the LSVT Big therapy program. Following this, she created the exercise program of PWR!Moves, opened the PWR! Gym that follows a philosophy centered on exercise is medicine and framework call PWR!4Life; in all this is contained within the nonprofit organization called Parkinson Wellness Recovery (PWR!).  The PWR! Retreat begins and ends with Dr. Farley; she’s clearly the heartbeat of why we were in Arizona.

•Dr. Jennifer Bazan-Wigle has her doctorate of physical therapy from Nova Southeastern University. She is an expert in treating individuals with Parkinson’s and various movement disorders and works at the PWR!Gym in Tucson, Arizona.  My history with Jennifer starts in 2016 when she was my instructor for PWR!Moves certification;  she was a motivated teacher, very knowledgeable about Parkinson’s and had intensity and the drive to really focus us to learn the material.  Jennifer is a role model for a physical therapist, and she is an amazing educator for working with those of us with Parkinson’s.

Jan Beyer completed her Masters in health education from Cortland state New York and started her own personal training business called “FitJan”.   She now lives and works in the Vancouver, Washington area where she’s working for the Quarry Senior living as the fitness director/Parkinson’s director.

Dr. Emily Borchers has her doctorate in physical therapy from Ohio State University and she currently works at the PWR!Gym.  Emily was very effective at sharing her expertise in helping teach all of the individuals with Parkinson’s.

Heleen Burghout has a Masters degree in physiotherapy from University of Amsterdam,  the Netherlands; and she has a primary care practice called ‘FhysioAlign’ in Ede,  the Netherlands. One of the main focuses of her practice is dealing with exercise and improving physical and mental conditions of people with Parkinson’s.

Dr. Valerie A. Carter has a doctorate in physical therapy from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff Arizona and is an associate clinical professor of physical therapy at Northern Arizona University.  She is certified and has taught workshops in both PWR! Moves and LSVT Big.  She owns and operates “Carter rehabilitation and wellness center and outpatient physical therapy clinic” in Flagstaff and she is an expert dealing with Parkinson’s patients.

Dr. Carl DeLuca has a doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He works in Wisconsin Rapids Wisconsin and is focused on a patient population with outpatient orthopedic and neurological including people with Parkinson’s.  He is working to set up a central Wisconsin PT program for Parkinson’s.

Dr. Chelsea Duncan has a doctorate in physical therapy from University Southern California and works as an outpatient neurologic clinic that specializes in movement disorders. She focuses in teaching both one-on-one and group exercise classes  for people with Parkinson’s. And she does live in sunny Los Angeles California.

Marge Kinder has a degree in physical therapy from University of California, San Francisco and for more than 40 years has been practicing and treating neurological disorders.  She is the project coordinator for the Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome Georgia.

Dr. Claire McLean  has a doctorate in physical therapy  from the University of Southern California and is an adjunct faculty member at both University of Southern California and California State University, Long Beach.  She has extensive training and is a board-certified neurologic clinical specialist and teaches both PWR! therapist and instructor courses. She has started a community wellness program for people with Parkinson’s and this is located in Southern California. My experience with Claire is that she was the voice and instructor for the videos that I use in my own training and for my undergraduate class in highlighting PWR! Moves.  Claire is an incredible PT/educator of exercise-and-life-programs for those of us with Parkinson’s.

Nancy Nelson is an ACE certified personal trainer and fitness specialist with over three decades of work experience in the health and wellness industry. She is an expert in dealing with exercise and Parkinson’s.

Sarah Krumme Palmer  has an MS degree in exercise physiology and have been working with patients with Parkinson’s for over 20 years. She is the owner of ‘forever fitness’ in Cincinnati Ohio. She is certified in PWR! moves professional, and has the Rock Steady Boxing affiliate in Cincinnati and has a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Kimberly Peute has an MBA from Webster University and is currently a JD candidate University of Arizona School of Law. She was an active participant in the PWR! retreat and was in charge of the care partner program.

•Lisa Robert has a physical therapy degree from the University of Alberta and Edmonton Alberta Canada and has been working in various settings including acute care, private practice and outpatient setting treating neurological patients.   Lisa has NDT, LSVT Big and PWR! Moves professional training experience, and she is a Master Trainer for urban poling. Lisa is also an excellent golfer; I had the opportunity and pleasure to play golf with her twice during the week of the PWR! Retreat.

•Ben Rossi has nearly 20 years of experience in fitness coaching, eight years dealing with the peak Parkinson’s community and as the founder of InMotion, he owns and operates ATP evolution performance training center.  Ben’s goal is straightforward in that he wants you in motion, helps you achieve a better eating program, encourages a positive attitude and he wants you to become 1% better every day.  He lives in Warrensville Heights Ohio.

Melinda Theobald has her MS degree in human movement from the A.T. Still University, Arizona School of Health Sciences, where she is certified by the National Academy sports medicine as corrective exercise specialist and a performance enhancement  specialist.  She currently works for Banner Neuro Wellness West in Sun City Arizona.

•Christy Tolman  has been a licensed realtor for over a decade and  served on the Parkinson’s network of Arizona at the Mohammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix.  She was everything to the PWR! Retreat in terms of organizational skills;  in other words,  the PWR! Retreat was successful because of Christy’s effort.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”  Henry Ford

Impressions of format, instructors, teams, and location: 
Location– Scottsdale Resort in McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale Arizona was the ideal setting for the PWR! Retreat. The resort itself was well-kept and the rooms we used for the retreat were just right; the staff were helpful; it was adjacent to a golf course (great for me); many restaurants/shopping were only minutes away; and the food was just never-ending and really good quality.   I realize you can’t control the weather, but it was ideal sunny, hot and dry with clear skies.
Format–  the format was described above and it seemed ideal for the participants dealing with exercise in the morning and education in the afternoon with evenings free either to do things with your partner or with the group-at-large.
Instructors– They totally rocked!  I cannot imagine a better group of people to teach PWR! Moves and the other exercise (PWR-pole-walking, Circuit and Nexus) routines associated with the PWR! Retreat.  It was also so nice to see them outside of exercise; some gave talks in the afternoon sessions, we had meals together with them , and they were also active participants in all of our other events. 
Teams–   we had four different teams, my team was the Blue team  (For pole walking it was both the people with Parkinson’s and the care partners together, and for the exercise it was typically just the people with Parkinson’s together) and my group did the following sessions together as illustrated by the blue boxes in the table below.   I will describe the experience in more detail in my next post.  However, this was the vital experience that made the PWR! Retreat so valuable, spending time with these people the majority of whom had Parkinson’s (it was a special treat and honor to have the care partners with us for so much time as well because they were remarkable people themselves).

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“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. / Instead, focus on what to do next. / Spend your energies on moving forward / toward finding the answer.” Denis Waitley

Pictures With Great Memories:  Below are posted many of the pictures that were contained in the video I showed in the beginning of the post. My second post I will spend more time talking about the exercise routines, education program, team camaraderie, and my personal feelings behind the week of exercise and everything else associated with the PWR! Retreat.   It’s very safe to say as I remarked at the beginning, the impact of  the PWR! Retreat on me was life altering and very meaningful in a profound manner.

My Team/Program Leaders (names of those missing from pictures are given in the video):

 The Team Leaders and Teams:

Exercise Routines (Pole walking, PWR! Moves, Nexus and Circuit):

 

Dance night, game night and meditation:

 

My Keynote presentation and additional ‘stuff’:

 

 

Additional photos of the PWR! Retreat instructors/organizers:
Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 9.39.41 AMIMG_5228 (1)Golf fun:

 

Giving thanks and saying good-bye to all of the instructors:

 

 

“I do believe my life has no limits! I want you to feel the same way about your life, no matter what your challenges may be. As we begin our journey together, please take a moment to think about any limitations you’ve placed on your life or that you’ve allowed others to place on it. Now think about what it would be like to be free of those limitations. What would your life be if anything were possible?” Nick Vujicic

Cover photo credit:

http://www.genehanson.com/images/photography/777sunset/020_arizona_sunetset_image0001.jpg

 

 

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10 “P-Words” That Will Help Your Career Even in the Presence of Parkinson’s

“Enjoy the journey, enjoy every moment, and quit worrying about Winning and losing.” Matt Biondi

“Enjoy the journey as much as the destination.”  Marshall Sylver

Introduction:  It has been a month since my last blog post.  Trips to Arizona, California, Alabama, and Florida consumed much of the month.  I spent time with relatives, dear old friends, and played many rounds of golf.  The spring semester was most enjoyable but also it was quite consumptive.  Life-changes.  And I just needed a short break.

10 “P-Words” That Will Help Your Career:  I found a piece of paper recently that had a bunch of hand-written words that started with the letter “P”.  These words were all focused in the mindset of how to achieve/sustain success in the world of medical academics/research in a university setting.  Use these P-words while you advance/survive/navigate/succeed through your career.

At various times during your career, some words may take precedence depending on the situation.  However, if you consider the words in the form of a melody, they will all significantly contribute to the symphony of your work-life.  There is no doubt there are many other words we could cite that help you navigate work, that allow you to succeed in your career.  My list is just a start or an attempt to help you focus your energies with the goal of advancement and happiness in your work world. May this list help you focus and achieve further in your professional career.

  1. Passionate (Capable of, having, or dominated by powerful emotions):
    “There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions – in a way that serves the world and you.” Richard Branson
  2. Patient (Tolerant; understanding):
    “Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.”  Robert H. Schuller
  3. Perseverance (Continued steady belief or efforts, withstanding discouragement or difficulty):
    “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”  Thomas A. Edison
  4. Persistent (Continuance of an effect after the cause is removed):
    “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” Babe Ruth
  5. Positivity (Characterized by or displaying certainty, acceptance, or affirmation):
    “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.”  W. Clement Stone
  6. Power (The ability or capacity to act or do something effectively):
    “You must try to make the most of all that comes but also don’t forget to learn a lot of all that goes.” William C. Brown
  7. Prepared (To make ready beforehand for a specific purpose):
    “The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” Elbert Hubbard
  8. Principled(s) (Based on, marked by, or manifesting principle):
    “I wish I had been wiser. I wish I had been more effective, I wish I’d been more unifying, I wish I’d been more principled.” Bill Ayers
  9. Productive (Effective in achieving specified results):
    “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”  Francis of Assisi
  10. Purposeful (Determined; resolute):
    “All life is a purposeful struggle, and your only choice is the choice of a goal.”  Ayn Rand

The 10 “P-Words” Could Assist the Journey (definitions from the Free Dictionary): You may have a different definition for these words and you may know of better quotes given for each word. Good!  The balance, guidance and focus of each word as they are applied to work is what matters.

I remember reading in 1989 “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey, and found it useful.  But in hindsight, my mind functions in a simpler more scientific manner, words work better to focus my mind than did chapters and detailed stories.  Covey has sold more than 25 million copies of his book; clearly his description his ability to provide a powerful narrative was most successful – I did learn a lot from his book.  However, this list of words simply spells out a way to help coordinate the complexity of a career.

The 10 “P-Words” Work in the Presence of Parkinson’s:  I have had Parkinson’s for the past 5-6 years, and I am still working full-time.  No doubt Parkinson’s affects each person differently; it allows some to continue to work and others must stop.   Some of the effects of Parkinson’s on my work: I type slower than I used to, stiffness takes over if I sit too long, and at times I lose my focus.  I remain hopeful that even under the influence of Parkinson’s I can stay focused on education and science until its time.  There are many great things influencing my life and work.   I want to be in the driver’s seat to get to that point when I can say “I’ve done enough!”. Simply put, I refuse to surrender to Parkinson’s. If you are still working, I’m happy for you.  Probably for those of us with Parkinson’s, the key P-words are to stay positive, remain patient, always persevere, and never lose your passion.

“When you are a young person, you are like a young creek, and you meet many rocks, many obstacles and difficulties on your way. You hurry to get past these obstacles and get to the ocean. But as the creek moves down through the fields, it becomes larges and calmer and it can enjoy the reflection of the sky. It’s wonderful. You will arrive at the sea anyway so enjoy the journey. Enjoy the sunshine, the sunset, the moon, the birds, the trees, and the many beauties along the way. Taste every moment of your daily life.”  Nhat Hanh

Cover photo credit: https://plus.google.com/108408866746991947808\s

 

The Yack on NAC (N-Acetyl-Cysteine) and Parkinson’s

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” Christopher Reeve

“Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” Lin Yutang

Introduction: N-Acetyl-Cysteine (or N-acetylcysteine, usually abbreviated NAC and frequently pronounced like the word ‘knack’) is an altered (modified by an N-acetyl-group) form of the sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine (Cys).  NAC is one of the building blocks for the all important antioxidant substance glutathione (GSH).   GSH is a powerful reagent that helps cells fight oxidative stress.  One of the putative causes of Parkinson’s is oxidative stress on dopamine-producing neurons (see figure below). This post summarizes some of the biochemistry of NAC and GSH.  Furthermore, NAC may provide some neuroprotective benefit as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approach to treating Parkinson’s.

“Losing the possibility of something is the exact same thing as losing hope and without hope nothing can survive.” Mark Z. Danielewski

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 Glutathione (GSH):  GSH is a 3-amino acid substance (tripeptide) composed of Cys linked to glutamate (Glu) and followed by glycine (Gly). NAC would need to be de-acetylated to provide Cys and that would feed in to the reaction synthesis. Importantly, Cys is the rate limiting reactant, which means without adequate amounts of Cys you do not make GSH.   The schematic below gives the orientation and order of addition of the three amino acid components to give you GSH.

NACtoGSH

There are two advantages of NAC over Cys for making GSH: (i) the sulfhydryl group of NAC remains reduced (that is as an SH group) more so than the SH group of Cys; and (ii) the NAC molecule appears to transport itself through cell membranes much more easily than Cys.  The reduced (i.e.,  free SH group) form of GSH, once synthesized within the cell, has several key functions that range from antioxidant protection to protein thiolation to drug detoxification in many different tissues.   The key function of GSH is to provide what is known as “reducing equivalents” to the cell, which implies an overall key antioxidant effect.

The schematic below shows NAC transport from extracellular to intracellular (inside the cell), and the primary reactions for detoxification and thiolation from GSH. Implied by this figure below is that GSH is not easily transported into the cell. Furthermore, in a more toxic/hostile environment outside of the cell, you can easily oxidize 2 GSH molecules to become GSSG (the reduced SH group gets oxidized to form an S-S disulfide bond) and GSSG does not have the antioxidant effect of GSH.   However, inside the cell, GSH is a very potent antioxidant/detoxifying substance. And the beauty of being inside the cell, there is an enzyme called GSH-reductase that regenerates GSH from GSSG.

Rushworth-NAC.review-4.2

To recap and attempt to simplify what I just said, NAC gets delivered into a cell, which then allows the cell to generate intracellular GSH.  The presence of intracellular GSH gives a cell an enormous advantage to resist potentially toxic oxidative agents. By contrast, extracellular GSH has a difficult path into the cell; and is likely to be oxidized to GSSG and rendered useless to help the cell.

“Just remember, you can do anything you set your mind to, but it takes action, perseverance, and facing your fears.”  Gillian Anderson

One of many biological functions of NAC:   Perhaps the most important medical use of NAC is to help save lives in people with acetaminophen toxicity, in which the liver is failing.  How does NAC do this?  Acetaminophen is sold as Tylenol.  It is also added to compounds that are very important for pain management ()analgesics), including Vicodin and Percocet. Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the USA.   This excess of acetaminophen rapidly consumes the GSH in the liver, which then promotes liver death.  NAC quickly restores protective levels of GSH  to the liver, which hopefully reverses catastrophic liver failure to prevent death.

Systemically, when taken either orally or by IV injection, NAC would have 2 functions.  First, NAC replenishes levels of Cys to generate the intracellular antioxidant GSH (see schemes above).  Second, NAC has been shown to regulate gene expression of several pathways that link oxidative stress to inflammation.  Since the primary goal of this post relates to NAC as a CAM in Parkinson’s, I will not expand further on the many uses of NAC in other disease processes.  However, listed at the end are several review articles detailing the numerous medicinal roles of NAC.

“Love, we say, is life; but love without hope and faith is agonizing death.” Elbert Hubbard

Use of NAC as a CAM in Parkinson’s:   This is what we know about oxidative stress in Parkinson’s and the potential reasons why NAC could be used as a CAM in this disorder, it goes as follows  (it’s also conveniently shown in the figure at the bottom):

1. Substantia nigra dopamine-producing neurons die from oxidative stress, which can lead to Parkinson’s.

2.What is oxidative stress? Oxidative stress happens when your cells in your body do not make/have enough antioxidants to reduce pro-oxidants like free radicals. Free radicals cause cell damage/death when they attack proteins/cell membranes.

3.We speak of oxidative stress in terms of redox imbalance (which means the balance between increased amounts of oxidants or  decreased amounts of antioxidants).

4.Glutathione (GSH) is a key substance used by cells to repair/resist oxidatively damaged cells/proteins.

5.”Forces of evil” in the brain that make it difficult to resist oxidative stress:  decreased levels of GSH,  increased levels of iron and  increased polyunsaturated fatty acids.

6.Extracellar GSH cannot be transported easily into neurons, although there is evidence GSH gets past the blood brain barrier;

7.N-acetyl Cysteine (NAC), is an anti-oxidant and a precursor to GSH.  NAC gets through the blood brain barrier and can also be transported into neurons.

8.Cysteine is the rate-limiting step for GSH synthesis (NAC would provide the cysteine and favor synthesis of GSH).

9.Animal model studies have shown NAC to be neuroprotective.

10. Recent studies have shown NAC crosses the human blood brain barrier and may be a useful PD-modifying therapy.

 

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“You cannot tailor-make the situations in life but you can tailor-make the attitudes to fit those situations.”  Zig Ziglar

Scientific and clinical support for NAC in treating Parkinson’s: Content presented here is meant for informational purposes only and not as medical advice.  Please remember that I am a basic scientist, not a neurologist, and any use of these compounds should be thoroughly discussed with your own personal physician. This is not meant to be an endorsement  because it would be more valuable and important for your neurologist to be in agreement with the interpretation of these papers.

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To evaluate the use of NAC in Parkinson’s, Katz et al. treated 12 patients with Parkinson’s with oral doses of NAC twice a day for two days.   They studied three different doses of 7, 35, and 70 mg per kilogram. For example, in a person weighing 170 pounds, from a Weight Based Divided Dose Calculator (click here), this would be 540, 2700, and 5400 mg/day of NAC for 7, 35, and 70 mg/kg, respectively. Using cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), they measured levels of  NAC, Cys, and GSH at baseline and 90 minutes after the last dose. Their results showed that there was a dose-dependent range of NAC as detected by CSF. And they concluded that oral administration of NAC produce biologically relevant CSF levels of NAC at the three doses examined; the doses of oral NAC were also well-tolerated.  Furthermore, the patients treated with NAC had no change in either motor or cognitive function. Their conclusions support the feasibility of using oral NAC as a CAM therapy for treatment of Parkinson’s.

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In a separate study, Monti at al  presented some preliminary evidence for the use of NAC in Parkinson’s. The first part of their study consisted of a neuronal cell system that was pre-treated with NAC in the presence of the pesticide rotenone as a model of Parkinson’s.   These results showed that with NAC there was more neuronal cell survival after exposure to rotenone compared to the rotenone-treated cells without NAC. The second part of the study was a small scale clinical evaluation using NAC in Parkinson’s. These patients were randomized and given either NAC or nothing and continued to use their traditional medical care. The patients were evaluated at the start and after three months of receiving NAC; they measured dopamine transporter binding and  performed the unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale  (UPDRS) to measure clinical symptoms. The clinical study revealed an increase in dopamine transporter binding in the NAC treatment group and no measurable changes in the control group. Furthermore UPDRS scores were significantly improved in the NAC treatment group compared to the control patient group.   An interesting feature of this study was the use of pharmaceutical NAC, which is an intravenous (IV) medication and they also used 600 mg NAC tablets. The dose used was 50 mg per kg mixed into sterile buffer and infused over one hour one time per week. In the days they were not getting the IV NAC treatment, subjects took 600 mg NAC tablets twice per day.

 Okay, what did I just say? I will try to summarize both of these studies in a more straightforward manner.   The results above suggest that NAC crosses the blood brain barrier and does offer some anti-oxidative protection. In one study, this was shown by increased levels of both GSH and Cys dependent on the NAC dose. In another study, they directly measured dopamine transporter binding, which was increased in the presence of NAC. In the second study using a three month treatment strategy with NAC, there was a measurable positive effect on disease progression as measured by UPDRS scores.  

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Thomas A. Edison

Potential for NAC in treating Parkinson’s: Overall, both studies described above suggest the possibility that NAC may be useful in treating Parkinson’s. However, in both cases these were preliminary studies that would require much larger randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials to definitively show a benefit for using NAC in treating Parkinson’s. On a personal note, I have been taking 600 mg capsules of NAC three times a day for the past year with the hope that it is performing the task as outlined in this post. Using information from the first study that would be a NAC dose of 24 mg per kilogram body weight. In conclusion, the information described above suggests that NAC may be useful in regulating oxidative stress, one of the putative causes of Parkinson’s. As with all studies, time will tell if ultimately there is a benefit for using NAC in Parkinson’s.

“I am not an optimist, because I am not sure that everything ends well. Nor am I a pessimist, because I am not sure that everything ends badly. I just carry hope in my heart. Hope is the feeling that life and work have a meaning. You either have it or you don’t, regardless of the state of the world that surrounds you. Life without hope is an empty, boring, and useless life. I cannot imagine that I could strive for something if I did not carry hope in me. I am thankful to God for this gift. It is as big as life itself.” Vaclav Havel

References Used:
Katz M, Won SJ, Park Y, Orr A, Jones DP, Swanson RA, Glass GA. Cerebrospinal fluid concentrations of N-acetylcysteine after oral administration in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2015;21(5):500-3. doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2015.02.020. PubMed PMID: 25765302.

Martinez-Banaclocha MA. N-acetyl-cysteine in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. What are we waiting for? Med Hypotheses. 2012;79(1):8-12. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2012.03.021. PubMed PMID: 22546753.

Monti DA, Zabrecky G, Kremens D, Liang TW, Wintering NA, Cai J, Wei X, Bazzan AJ, Zhong L, Bowen B, Intenzo CM, Iacovitti L, Newberg AB. N-Acetyl Cysteine May Support Dopamine Neurons in Parkinson’s Disease: Preliminary Clinical and Cell Line Data. PLoS One. 2016;11(6):e0157602. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157602. PubMed PMID: 27309537; PMCID: PMC4911055.

Mosley RL, Benner EJ, Kadiu I, Thomas M, Boska MD, Hasan K, Laurie C, Gendelman HE. Neuroinflammation, Oxidative Stress and the Pathogenesis of Parkinson’s Disease. Clin Neurosci Res. 2006;6(5):261-81. doi: 10.1016/j.cnr.2006.09.006. PubMed PMID: 18060039; PMCID: PMC1831679.

Nolan YM, Sullivan AM, Toulouse A. Parkinson’s disease in the nuclear age of neuroinflammation. Trends Mol Med. 2013;19(3):187-96. doi: 10.1016/j.molmed.2012.12.003. PubMed PMID: 23318001.

Rushworth GF, Megson IL. Existing and potential therapeutic uses for N-acetylcysteine: the need for conversion to intracellular glutathione for antioxidant benefits. Pharmacol Ther. 2014;141(2):150-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2013.09.006. PubMed PMID: 24080471.

Taylor JM, Main BS, Crack PJ. Neuroinflammation and oxidative stress: co-conspirators in the pathology of Parkinson’s disease. Neurochem Int. 2013;62(5):803-19. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2012.12.016. PubMed PMID: 23291248.

Cover photo credit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/e8/33/ae/e833aeb408a432d419628c803bf14498.jpg

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Parkinson’s Disease Research: A Commentary from the Stands and the Playing Field

“You can have a very bad end with Parkinson’s, but on the other hand, you can be like me, because I’m lucky. I’m not having a bad end.” Margo MacDonald

“My age makes me think how valuable life is. How bad is something like Parkinson’s in relation to not having life at all?” Michael J. Fox

Introduction: Last month, together with Dr. Simon Stott and his team of scientists (The Science of Parkinson’s Disease), we co-published a historical timeline of Parkinson’s disease beginning with the description of the ‘shaking palsy’ from James Parkinson in 1817. My post entitled “Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery” can be read here (click this link). The Science of Parkinson’s Disease post entitled “Milestones in Parkinson’s Disease Research and Discovery” can be read here (click this link).

We spent a lot of time compiling and describing what we felt were some of the most substantial findings during the past 200 years regarding Parkinson’s disease.  I learned a lot; truly amazing what has been accomplished in our understanding of  such a complex and unique disorder.  Simon posted a follow-up note entitled “Editorial: Putting 200 years into context” (click this link). I have decided to also post a commentary from the standpoint of (i) being someone with Parkinson’s and (ii) being a research scientist.

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Babe Ruth

Baseball: I want to use the analogy of a baseball game to help organize my commentary. Baseball fans sit in the stands and have fun watching the game, thinking about the strategy behind the game, eating/drinking, and sharing the experience with family/friends/colleagues.   Most baseball players begin playing early in life and the ultimate achievement would be to reach the major leagues. And this would usually have taken many years of advancing through different levels of experience on the part of the ballplayer. How does how this analogy work for me in this blog? Stands: I am a person-with-Parkinson’s watching the progress to treat and/or cure this disorder. Playing field: I am a research scientist in a medical school (click here to view my training/credentials).

“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game!”  Babe Ruth

Observation from the stands:
I am a spectator like everyone else with Parkinson’s. I read much of the literature available online.  Like you, I think about my disorder; I think about how it’s affecting me every day of my life. Yes, I want a cure for this disease.  Yes, I’m rather impatient too.  I understand the angst and anxiety out there with many of the people with Parkinson’s. In reality, I would not be writing this blog if I didn’t have Parkinson’s. Therefore, I truly sense your frustration that you feel in the presence of Parkinson’s, I do understand.  Given below are examples of various organizations and ads and billboards in support of finding a cure for Parkinson’s.  Some even suggest that a cure must come soon.   However, the rest of my post is going to be dedicated to trying to explain why it’s taking so long; why I am optimistic and positive a cure and better treatment options are going to happen.  And it is partly based on the fact that there really are some amazing people working to cure Parkinson’s and to advance our understanding of this disorder.

“When you come to a fork in the road take it.” Yogi Berra

Observations from the playing field (NIH, war on cancer, research lab, and advancing to a cure for Parkinson’s):

National Institutes of Health (NIH) and biomedical research in the USA: Part of what you have to understand, in the United States at least, is that a large portion of biomedical research is funded by the NIH (and other federally-dependent organizations), which receives a budget from Congress (and the taxpayers). What does it mean for someone with Parkinson’s compared to someone with cancer or diabetes? The amount of federal funds committed to the many diseases studied by NIH-funded-researchers are partly divvied up by the number of people affected. I have prepared a table from the NIH giving the amount of money over the past few years for the top four neurodegenerative disorders, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Huntington’s Disease, respectively [taken from “Estimates of Funding for Various Research, Condition, and Disease Categories” (click here)]. And this is compared to cancer and coronary arterial disease and a few other major diseases. Without going into the private organizations that fund research, a large amount of money comes from the NIH. Unfortunately, from 2003-2015, the NIH lost >20% of its budget for funding research (due to budget cuts, sequestration, and inflationary losses; click here to read further).   Therefore,  it is not an overstatement to say getting  funded today by the NIH is fiercely competitive.  From 1986 to 2015, my lab group was supported by several NIH grants and fellowships  (and we also received funding from the American Heart Association and Komen for the Cure).

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“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.” Yogi Berra

War against cancer: In 1971, Pres. Richard Nixon declared war against cancer and Congress passed the National Cancer Act.  This created a new national mandate “to support research and application of the results of research to reduce the incident, morbidity, and mortality from cancer.” Today, cancer is still the second leading cause of death in the USA; however, we’ve come such a long way to improving this statistic from when the Cancer Act was initiated.

Scientifically, in the 1970’s, we were just learning about oncogenes and the whole field of molecular biology was really in its infancy. We had not even started sequencing the human genome, or even of any organism.  We discovered genes that could either promote or suppress cellular growth.   We began to delineate the whole system of cell signaling and communications with both normal and malignant cells. We now know there are certain risk factors that allow us to identify people that may have increased risk for certain cancers. Importantly,  we came to realize that not all cancers were alike,  and it offered the notion to design treatment strategies for each individual cancer.  For example,  we now have very high cure rates for childhood acute leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma and we have significantly improved survival statistics for women with breast cancer. Many might say this was a boondoggle and that we wasted billions of dollars  funding basic biomedical research on cancer; however, basic  biomedical research is expensive and translating that into clinical applications is even more expensive.  [ For a  very nice short review on cancer research please see the following article, it may be freely accessible by now: DeVita Jr, Vincent T., and Steven A. Rosenberg. “Two hundred years of cancer research.” New England Journal of Medicine 366.23 (2012): 2207-2214.]

“One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something.” Nolan Ryan

The biomedical research laboratory environment:  A typical laboratory group setting is depicted in the drawing below. The research lab usually consists of the lead scientist who has the idea to study a research topic, getting grants funded and in recruiting a lab group to fulfill the goals of the project.  Depending on the philosophy of the project leader the lab may resemble very much like the schematic below or may be altered to have primarily technicians or senior postdoctoral fellows working in the lab  (as two alternative formats). A big part of academic research laboratories is education and training the students and postdocs to go on to advance their own careers; then you replace the people that have left and you continue your own research.  Since forming my own lab group in 1986, I have helped train over 100 scientists in the research laboratory: 17 graduate students, 12 postdoctoral fellows, 17 medical students, and 64 undergraduates. The lab has been as large as 10 people and a small as it is currently is now with two people. People come to your lab group because they like what you’re doing scientifically and this is where they want to belong for their own further training and advancement.  This description is for an academic research  laboratory; and  I should also emphasize that many people get trained in federal government-supported organizations, private Pharma and other types of research environments that may differ in their laboratory structure and organizational format.

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“Hitting is 50% above the shoulders.” Ted Williams

 In search of the cure for Parkinson’s:    First, I understand the situation you’re in with Parkinson’s because I’m living through the same situation.   But when people find out I’m a research scientist they always wonder why aren’t we doing more to find a cure, and I  hear the sighs of frustration and I see the anxiety in their faces. Second, the previous three sections are not meant to be an excuse for why there is still no cure for Parkinson’s. It is presented in the reality of what biomedical research scientists must undergo to study a topic.  Third, the experiments that take place in basic biomedical research laboratory may happen over weeks to months if successful. Taking that laboratory data to the clinic and further takes months and years to succeed if at all.   The section on cancer reminds me a lot of where we are going with Parkinson’s and trying to advance new paradigms in the treatment and curative strategies.  Professionally, I have even decided  to pursue research funding in the area of Parkinson’s disease.   Why not spend the rest of my academic career studying my own disease; in the least I can help educate others about this disorder. Furthermore, I can assure you from my reading and meeting people over the last couple of years, there are many hundreds of scientists and clinicians throughout this world studying Parkinson’s and trying to advance our understanding and derive a cure.  I see their devotion, I see their commitment to helping cure our disorder.

The science behind Parkinson’s is quite complicated. These complications suggest that Parkinson’s may be more of a syndrome rather than a disease. Instead of a one-size-fits-all like a disease would be classified; Parkinson’s as a syndrome would be a group of symptoms which consistently occur together.  What this might imply is that some treatment strategy might work remarkably well on some patients but have no effect on others. However, without a detailed understanding and advancement of what Parkinson’s really is we will never reach the stage where we can cure this disorder.

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In a recent blog from the Science of Parkinson’s disease, Simon nicely summarized all the current research in 2017 in Parkinson’s disease (click here to read this post). To briefly summarize what he said is that there are multiple big Pharma collaborations occurring to study Parkinson’s.  There are more than 20 clinical trials currently being done in various stages of completion to prevent disease progression but also to try to cure the disorder.  From a search of the literature, there are literally hundreds of research projects going on that promise to advance our understanding of this disorder. With the last point, it still will take time to happen. Finally, I am a realist but I’m also optimistic and positive that we’re making incredible movement toward much better therapies, which will eventually lead to curative options for Parkinson’s.

And a final analogy to baseball and Parkinson’s, as Tommy Lasorda said “There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.”  I really want to be one of those scientists that help make it happen (or at least to help advance our understanding of the disorder).

“You can’t expect life to play fair with your heart or your brain or your health. That’s not the nature of the game we call life. You have to recognize the nature of the game and know that you can do your best to make the right choices, but life if going to do whatever the hell it pleases to you anyway. All you can control is how you react to whatever life throws at you. You can shut down or you can soar.” Holly Nicole Hoxter

Cover photo credit: PNC Park photo: i.imgur.com/32RWncK

Sign post scienceofparkinsons.com/

Driving Under the Influence of Parkinson’s

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” George Carlin

“If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day Weekend.” Doug Larson

The Dilemma: At some age in our life, maybe, just maybe, we could lose the privilege of driving our car/truck.  If you are living with Parkinson’s, depending on the individual, losing the legal right to drive your motor vehicle might/could happen at an even earlier age.  A discussion of driving under the influence of Parkinson’s is presented here.

“I love driving cars, looking at them, cleaning and washing and shining them. I clean ’em inside and outside. I’m very touchy about cars. I don’t want anybody leaning on them or closing the door too hard, know what I mean?” Scott Baio

The Michon model of normal driving behavior:  In 1985, Michon proposed that drivers need to conduct problem-solving while driving; he divided it  into three levels of skill and control. The model includes strategic (planning), tactical (maneuvering), and operational (control) levels.   When you think about it driving really is a complicated task.   The strategic level is basically the general route and planning needed to successfully navigate the motor vehicle.  The tactical and control levels involve the individual driving circumstances and how one responds and our responsiveness to the action of driving.   And of course, it’s quite obvious, that unsafe driving is operating a motor vehicle in an unsafe manner regardless of your health status. Driving safely is important for the individual as well as for the people around you; thus, it is a serious task to evaluate someone’s competency to drive a motor vehicle. Shown below is a schematic drawing of the Michon model of normal driving behavior.

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“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.” Dave Barry

Decision-making while driving:   Below are some traffic signs that we might encounter in our usual driving pattern depending on where we live. When you think about decision-making you’re in your lane you’re driving down the road and you see signs like this, then what?  You can see how it takes all three levels of driving competency to navigate successfully while driving a motor vehicle in a complex maneuver.  Now add the complications of someone with Parkinson’s, you may need to re-think the entire situation. What this says is that when you’re driving a motor vehicle you’re trying to integrate many levels of sensory, motor and cortical function to the process. In Parkinson’s, we may have some sort of motor skill/task impairment, potentially mixed with a minor cognitive disorder, and further clouded by traditional drug therapy. Who makes the decision for the patient with Parkinson’s about being able to continue to drive?  Not an easy answer.

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” Erol Ozan

 Possible problems that could occur while driving with Parkinson’s: The control or operational level of driving a car can be influenced by motor defects experienced by many with Parkinson’s, including rigidity, tremor, bradykinesia and dyskinesia. Futhermore, non-motor deficits could impair both route planning, strategic and tactical levels, and these would include cognitive decline, neuropsychiatric symptoms and/or visual impairment. And on top of that in the elderly population, many people with Parkinson’s have additional co-morbidity that could also contribute to diminish our ability to drive a motor vehicle. Thinking about just one aspect, slowness in cognitive function, the inability to make a decision quickly could lead to poor performance time and might affect driving in someone with Parkinson’s. Alternatively, you may have none of these problems and will be driving for many more years. But as we all start to exhibit signs and symptoms of motor and non-motor deficits, this will eventually become an important issue for each of us to deal with at some point in time.

“Always focus on the front windshield and not the review mirror.” Colin Powell

 What are some criteria for determining our fitness to drive a motor vehicle when you have Parkinson’s? In a very nice review, Jitkritsadakul and Bhidayasiri suggest there are five different red flags that should tell our neurologist that we may have an impairment that should limit our driving of motor vehicles. First, these include our clinical history, which would be a history of accidents, sleeping attacks while driving and combined with the daily dose amount of levodopa. Next would be a questionnaire to determine our level of daily sleepiness. Third, a motor assessment skills test. Fourth, a cognitive assessment. And fifth would be a visual assessment.  Look above at the Michon driving schematic and think about the three levels of skill required for driving and substitute someone with Parkinson’s and how that could diminish one or more of the skill sets over time.  What this says to me is that through a combination of family and friends and carepartner,  along with the advice of our neurologist, one should be able to make a critical assessment of whether or not we should continue to drive.

“Driving your car through deep pools of flood water is a great way of making your car unreliable. Smart people turn around and avoid it.” Steven Magee

A love of motor vehicles (a personal expression):  I grew up loving automobiles; and living on Air Force Bases, I saw many different types of sports cars  (e.g., Corvette, Jaguar, Triumph, Porsche, Shelby Mustang, Ferrari- you just had to believe that Air Force pilots live for speed in the air and their cars showed it on the ground). I can remember in 1964 (I was 11 years old) going to the Ford dealership with my dad to see the very first Ford Mustang cars; thinking how beautiful they were and remembering my dad’s comment that was a lot of car for $2,400.   I still have vivid memories of riding with my dad (yes, he was a former pilot) in his ~1962 white Porsche. I can still remember in 1971 getting my first car, a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro (red interior and red exterior) with standard transmission (three on the floor) and powered by a 327 cubic inch V-8 engine. [Please note, the pictures below are representative images because I could not find any actual old photos of these cars]

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Over the decades, I can recall the weekly car-washing sessions, typically on Saturday mornings. With the exception of one car in the early 1980’s, I have loved and truly enjoyed the automobiles I’ve driven.  Like many people I’ve named all my cars; my two current automobiles are named Raven and Portia. I still enjoy driving a standard shift car using the clutch that requires both cognitive function and motor skills to navigate the automobile. I have always thought “It’s going to be a cold day in hell before they take my car away”; however, it’s a reality in the future I now face with Parkinson’s. In fact one of the very first people I ever told about my Parkinson’s several years ago, the very first question she asked me was “Are you still able to drive?”  In summary, driving under the influence of Parkinson’s is something we all will need to consider with time; I wish you well with your driving experiences.

“Driving a car provides a person with a rush of dopamine in the brain, which hormonal induced salience spurs modalities of creative and critical thinking regarding philosophical concepts such as truth, logical necessity, possibility, impossibility, chance, and contingency.” Kilroy J. Oldster

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27729986

1.    Jitkritsadakul O, Bhidayasiri R. Physicians’ role in the determination of fitness to drive in patients with Parkinson’s disease: systematic review of the assessment tools and a call for national guidelines. Journal of Clinical Movement Disorders. 2016;3(1):14. doi: 10.1186/s40734-016-0043-x.

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Building Empathy for Parkinson’s

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”  Ernest Hemingway

“To perceive is to suffer.”  Aristotle

Introduction: The loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the mid-brain leads to Parkinson’s disease, which usually presents with motor dysfunction of different degrees of progression from person-to-person.  This post explores the differences between empathy and sympathy, and describes a new device that allows one to actually experience a person-with-Parkinson’s tremor; surely providing much empathy from the experience.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”  Theodore Roosevelt

A lesson learned from the classic rock opera “Tommy” by The Who: The plot of the 1969 rock opera “Tommy” begins with Tommy’s parents.  His father, Captain Walker, fought in World War II but it is assumed he died. However, Captain Walker is alive and returns home to his wife and Tommy. Believing her husband to be dead, Mrs. Walker has a new lover.  Captain Walker accidentally kills the lover, in the presence of Tommy. Tommy is traumatized by what he witnessed; he becomes catatonic.  Three musical examples: Go to the Mirror (listen here) Tommy sings “See me, me, feel me, touch me, heal me / See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.” Tommy’s father sings “I often wonder what he is feeling / Has he ever heard a word I’ve said? / Look at him in the mirror dreaming / What is happening in his head?” In Tommy Can You See Me? (listen here)  his mother sings “Tommy can you hear me? / Can you feel me near you? /  Tommy can you feel me / Can I help to cheer you.” In See Me, Feel Me (listen here) Tommy sings “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me / See me, feel me, touch me, heal me / See me, feel me, touch me, heal me / See me, feel me, touch me, heal me / Listening to you, I get the music / Gazing at you, I get the heat / Following you, I climb the mountain / I get excitement at your feet.” Hopefully, you can empathize, not sympathize, with Tommy and the life-struggles he encounters and overcomes in this rock opera.

“for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” Milan Kundera

*Empathy vs. sympathy: Empathy means you have the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  By contrast, sympathy means feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/empathy). Yes, it sucks to have a chronically-progressing neurodegenerative disorder like Parkinson’s. But it could be worse, really.

Empathy.  What a great word.  Try to be empathetic to me; you don’t have to become one with me, just strive to understand how I’m feeling.  Our bond will surely strengthen.  You may not be able to exactly feel what I’m feeling, but just trying says much to you, your inner processing, the soul of your humanity.

Please don’t pity me, that reduces the feelings between us.  Please don’t have sorrow or sadness for me, it weakens our ties. If you give me sympathy, you’ll never truly be able to grasp the extent and meaning of my Parkinson’s.  Parkinson’s is not my friend; however, having your friendship and understanding (empathy) instead of your pity (sympathy) will give me strength and help me deal on a more positive-front with this unrelenting disorder.

*This post is dedicated to the first-year medical students at the UNC School of Medicine. On Friday, May 5, I had the privilege and honor of being presented as a person-with-Parkinson’s in our Neurologic Block. They asked very specific questions in their attempt to understand Parkinson’s and to learn how I am living with this disorder. It was clear that they were trying to follow the advice of Dr. William Osler who said “It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.”

“Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.”  Dean Koontz

What is the life expectancy of someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and Huntington’s disease? These neurodegenerative disorders are listed in ranked order of how many people are affected from most to least, respectively. Alzheimer’s typically progress over 2 to 20 years, and individuals live for 8 to 10 years after the diagnosis.  People who have Parkinson’s usually have the same average life expectancy as people without the disease.  Life expectancy from ALS is usually at least 3-4 years. The time from diagnosis  of Huntington’s to death is about 10 to 30 years.  Each of these disorders is uniquely different and unsettling to me; but your empathy, not your sympathy, will truly help me sail my boat along the shoreline for many more years.  Accept me with ‘my unique medical issues’, try to understand it. Your empathy will add stability to my battle; just watch.

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.” Lloyd Shearer

A novel engineering device is empathy-producing to someone with Parkinson’s: The whole story is revealed from watching this video (click here). Klick Labs in Toronto, Canada, has created the SymPulse Tele-Empathy Device. This device is capable of mimicking and producing the tremors and involuntary movements of someone with Parkinson’s in people without Parkinson’s. The video is quite powerful, you immediately sense the empathy.

The SymPulse Tele-Empathy Device is based on digitized muscle activity from electromyograms of Parkinson’s patients. The signal is unique for each person with Parkinson’s. When the person without Parkinson’s receives this novel voltage pattern, their muscles will contract exactly as found in the person with Parkinson’s. Developing such a device shows the deviant nature of Parkinson’s to disrupt/distort normal neuro-muscular circuitry.

This device could be used to increase empathy in doctors and other caregivers. And it could enable family members and loved-ones the unique opportunity to experience the actual tremor/involuntary movements of their special person with Parkinson’s. Company officials note that most people wear the device for at most a couple of minutes; turn off the device and they return to normal. Remember, there is no off-on switch for the person with Parkinson’s.  I can only imagine empathy evolving from this device when used on someone without Parkinson’s.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Henri J.M. Nouwen

Cover photo credit: gsmnp.com/wp-content/uploads/View-of-Smoky-Mountains-from-Oconaluftee.jpg

A blog for Parkinson's education, research advances, new treatment strategies, and personal reflection: the goal is to provide support and information/resources to anyone with Parkinson’s.y

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