Category Archives: Positivity

Dopamine Agonist Withdrawal Syndrome (DAWS) in Parkinson’s

“Some remedies are worse than the disease.” Publilius Syrus

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.” Norman Cousins

Summary: Dopamine agonists are widely used in the treatment of Parkinson’s, especially as a first-line therapy. Some patients on a dopamine agonist experience side-effects that require either tapering or discontinuation of the drug.  First described in 2010, dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS) is a complication of ~20% of Parkinson’s patients who are either lowering or stopping the dopamine agonist.  DAWS presents as a cluster of physical and behavioral symptoms [e.g., agitation, depression, drug craving, and panic attacks (to give a few possible symptoms)]. There is no known standard-of-care in dealing with DAWS in Parkinson’s. Presented here is a brief overview of DAWS in Parkinson’s including dopamine agonists, clinical description, risk factors and prevalence, mechanism of action, treatment/management, and key publications.

“To heal illness, begin by restoring balance.” Caroline Myss

Dopamine agonists (DA): Dopamine agonists are ‘mimics’ of dopamine that pass through the blood brain barrier to interact with target dopamine receptors. Symptomatic treatment of Parkinson’s remains dopamine replacement, including the DA’s.  Dopamine agonists are frequently the first line of choice for therapy for the just diagnosed Parkinson’s patient. Dopamine agonists do help control motor symptoms in Parkinson’s although there can be significant side-effects (see Table below). Also below is a Table describing DA’s. The DA side effects can become intolerable for some people-with-Parkinson’s, and the decision to taper or withdraw the DA is made. Or maybe you’re a candidate for deep-brain stimulation (DBS) surgery and to calibrate the device you’ll be asked to stop your Parkinson’s medication for a short period of time.

18.01.03.DA+DAWS

18.01.03.DA+DAWS

“I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worth while.” George Bernard Shaw

First report of dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS): Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS) was first described in 2010 by Rabinak and Nirenberg on five of their patients with non-motor impulse control behavioral disorders (ICD) caused by the DA; thus, they were tapered. Two patients were further described in this publication. The first patient was a 67-year-old woman with a six year history of Parkinson’s, and she had been taking various drugs including a DA. She had developed a difficult ICD, and they elected to taper the DA; unexpectedly, she then had severe anxiety and dysphoria. They tried an increase in carbidopa/levodopa and they used other therapy for cognitive behavior control; to no benefit to the patient. They changed her back to the original DA dose and she had a rapid and dramatic improvement in all of her symptoms. This patient continues to use the DA and remains with the difficult ICD.

Patient #2 was a 61-year-old woman with a six-year history of Parkinson’s and likewise an ICD prompted by the DA; she began a DA tapering with increased carbidopa/levodopa medication.  During the DA taper, she developed depression and severe anxiety and became agitated; she also had fatigue and insomnia.  As with Patient #1, adding back the DA improved all of her non-motor symptoms. It took several years for her to successfully reduce her DA doseage. The figure below visually highlights some of the key symptoms of DAWS.

18.01.04.DAWS_faces

What both cases shared were prominent psychiatric symptoms, poor response to both additional carbidopa/levodopa (to take the place of the DA) and psychiatric medication; however, both had rapid improvement in their ‘new symptoms’ when placed back on the DA. The majority of DAWS symptoms are presented in the the Table below.Document5“The secret of learning to be sick is this: Illness doesn’t make you less of what you were. You are still you.” Tony Snow

Risk-factors and prevalence of DAWS: Since the original study in 2010, there have been several follow-up studies on DAWS. Some of the studies speculated that a large DA dose in the presence of pre-existing ICD are the most important risk factors for DAWS. The ‘number’ talked about frequently is something called the ‘levodopa equivalent daily dose’ (LEDD) of the dopamine agonist, where it has been suggested that >150 mg was linked to an increased risk of DAWS. Use this on-line program to calculate your LEDD (click here).  Here is an LEDD example: someone taking 14 mg ropinirole/day (with the online algorithm), the LEDD would be 280 mg daily.  What? OK, so what did you say?  This means if you wanted to replace the 14 mg/day ropinirole with carbidopa/levodopa you would need about 300 mg per day of levodopa based on this calculation.  I refer you to do the papers cited at the end of the blog post for more details about LEDD. What is interesting is several of the studies have compared the taper versus total withdrawal of the DA; it does not seem to alter the risk of DAWS.  Good news is if you’re not having any detrimental side effects from the DA, just continue on and you’re good to go. The bad news is if you are having some side effects and you want to try and eliminate them by tapering down need to carefully consult with your neurologist and work up a feasible plan.  Please remember I’m a biochemist, not a physician, and I just am interpreting data from publications.

The prevalence of DAWS has been reported to be between 15 and 19% in patients with Parkinson’s; it seems to be consistently about one-in-five.  As mentioned previously, there appears to be no difference in relative risk of DAWS comparing patients that discontinue DA completely or those that reduce the DA by taper. Based on the percentage mentioned above, this says ~4 out of 5 people-with-Parkinson’s can DA taper without any problems.

“It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.” Marcel Proust

DA mechanism of action to cause DAWS:  To recap, DAWS occurs in a subset of patients with Parkinson’s that have had difficulties managing the side effects of a DA, and the decision has been made to remove that DA from the patient’s regimen.  The simplest notion is that you would then replace the DA with an increased dose of carbidopa/levodopa (using the LEDD); however, this is Parkinson’s and this is the brain and it’s just not going to be that easy. The diagram below summarizes a very simplistic view of dopamine and DA’s in their interactions with motor and reward pathways.  There is no doubt that in treating Parkinson’s, the replacement of dopamine is crucial for many different physiological functions in the human body. Dopamine agonists and dopamine share similar binding properties to dopamine receptors. They are very important in improving motor symptoms (through the nigrostriatal pathway) but there is also some potential detrimental crossover to the reward center (through the mesocorticolimbic pathway).  It is this minor pathway that is linked to the increased risk of ICD in some patients being treated with a DA. It is not clear, however from the data published so far that there is a difference in this 20% of the patient population in their mesocorticolimbic circuitry system with the DA in comparison to the other 80% of the population.  In summary, what causes DAWS during DA tapering is not well understood.18.01.07.Dopamine_Motor_Reward“Medicine is intention. Those who are proficient at using intention are good doctors.” Sun Simiao

Treatment/management of DAWS during DA taper:  DAWS is a relatively recent phenomena related to DA withdrawal.  Patients with (i) a predisposition to ICD and (ii) a larger dose of DA are apparently at increased risk of developing DAWS. There is no well-delineated treatment plan that the neurologist can follow; best recommendation (from the papers cited below) is the patient should be tapered at a very slow dose reduction over a long period of time, and see what happens. Clearly, it is crucial that the patient and the neurologist carefully evaluate signs of ICD and DAWS at every visit, especially for patients at high risk.

“The treatments themselves do not ‘cure’ the condition, they simply restore the body’s self-healing ability.” Leon Chaitow

 Summary: As someone with Parkinson’s, I’ve done a lot of reading about treatment strategies (what’s good and what’s not so good). For someone my age there would almost always be a recommendation to begin the DA (the so-called sparing one of levodopa until it’s absolutely needed) and then as symptoms progressed, you would switch over and combine the DA with carbodipa/levodopa.  Had I read the opinions of Dr. Ahlskog in the beginning, I might have opted to start with carbidopa/levodopa without the DA (Ahlskog JE. Cheaper, Simpler, and Better: Tips for Treating Seniors With Parkinson Disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2011;86(12):1211-6. doi: https://doi.org/10.4065/mcp.2011.0443). Biochemically, DAWS is an interesting problem but there needs to be additional studies to delineate the mechanism of action. Finally  DAWS clinically is worrisome and definitely not well-understood; and likely, the scope of DAWS is under-recognized.

Key References:

  1. Rabinak CA, Nirenberg MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome in Parkinson disease. Arch Neurol. 2010;67(1):58-63. doi: 10.1001/archneurol.2009.294. PubMed PMID: 20065130.
  2. Nirenberg MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome and non-motor symptoms after Parkinson’s disease surgery. Brain. 2010;133(11):e155; author reply e6. doi: 10.1093/brain/awq165. PubMed PMID: 20659959.
  3. Cunnington AL, White L, Hood K. Identification of possible risk factors for the development of dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2012;18(9):1051-2. doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2012.05.012. PubMed PMID: 22677468.
  4. Pondal M, Marras C, Miyasaki J, Moro E, Armstrong MJ, Strafella AP, Shah BB, Fox S, Prashanth LK, Phielipp N, Lang AE. Clinical features of dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome in a movement disorders clinic. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2013;84(2):130-5. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-302684. PubMed PMID: 22933817.
  5. Edwards MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS): perils of flicking the dopamine ‘switch’. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2013;84(2):120. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-303570. PubMed PMID: 22993451.
  6. Nirenberg MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome: implications for patient care. Drugs Aging. 2013;30(8):587-92. doi: 10.1007/s40266-013-0090-z. PubMed PMID: 23686524.1.
  7. Nirenberg MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome: implications for patient care. Drugs Aging. 2013;30(8):587-92. doi: 10.1007/s40266-013-0090-z. PubMed PMID: 23686524.
  8. Solla P, Fasano A, Cannas A, Mulas CS, Marrosu MG, Lang AE, Marrosu F. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS) symptoms in Parkinson’s disease patients treated with levodopa-carbidopa intestinal gel infusion. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2015;21(8):968-71. doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2015.05.018. PubMed PMID: 26071817.
  9. Huynh NT, Sid-Otmane L, Panisset M, Huot P. A Man With Persistent Dopamine Agonist Withdrawal Syndrome After 7 Years Being Off Dopamine Agonists. Can J Neurol Sci. 2016;43(6):859-60. doi: 10.1017/cjn.2015.389. PubMed PMID: 26842385.
  10. Patel S, Garcia X, Mohammad ME, Yu XX, Vlastaris K, O’Donnell K, Sutton K, Fernandez HH. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS) in a tertiary Parkinson disease treatment center. J Neurol Sci. 2017;379:308-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2017.06.022. PubMed PMID: 28716269.
  11. Yu XX, Fernandez HH. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome: A comprehensive review. J Neurol Sci. 2017;374:53-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2016.12.070. PubMed PMID: 28104232.
  12. Solla P, Fasano A, Cannas A, Marrosu F. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome in Parkinson’s disease. J Neurol Sci. 2017;382:47-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2017.08.3263. PubMed PMID: 29111017.

“Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.” Joko Beck

Cover photo credit: f.fwallpapers.com/images/sun-peeking-through-snow-covered-trees.jpg

Agitation- img.aws.livestrongcdn.com/ls-article-image-400/cme/cme_public_images/www_livestrong_com/photos.demandstudios.com/49/85/fotolia_4199215_XS.jpg
Depression- http://www.scientificamerican.com/sciam/cache/file/FCD288AE-5C2E-49F2-85858FA255A8034B_source.jpg
Fatigued- www.belmarrahealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/fatigue-in-the-elderly-300×200.jpg
Panic attack- lifetimewoman.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/panica-1.jpg

64 Quotes on Persistence to Help Your Journey With Parkinson’s Disease

“Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it!” Winston Churchill

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” Benjamin Franklin

Introduction: On January 1, LinkedIn announced that I had a work anniversary of 32 years at The University North Carolina at Chapel Hill ( if you include my postdoc at UNC-CH, this is a grand total of 36 years). My dear friend Lisa Cox (she is a graduate of The University North Carolina at Chapel Hill) wrote to congratulate me and said the following: “Grateful for your commitment to the University and to your students. Your steadfast determination is to be commended.”  Her use of the words ‘steadfast determination’  got me thinking about the word persistent  (steadfast is a synonym for persistent) and this thinking led to the current blog post.

Persistence in the backdrop of staying hopeful:  I truly admire and enjoy reading works by Dr. Brené Brown. Her insight, research/writing and her thoughtful commentary on many different topics are truly remarkable.  She has studied hope when you have Parkinson’s hope is a very important word to embrace.  One of her stories on hope, mixed with persistence, deals with the work of C. R. Snyder, at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.  Embracing and expanding upon this work, “hope is a thought process; hope happens when (1) We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go); (2) We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again); and (3) We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).” To read in-depth this presentation entitled “Learning to Hope–Brené Brown”, click here. And again the word ‘persistent’ stood out while reading this document.

Persistence and Parkinson’s: Persistence (per·sist·ence /pərˈsistəns/ noun) is defined as (1) firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition, and (2) the continued or prolonged existence of something.  If you’re going to thrive in the presence of Parkinson’s, you will definitely need persistence because you will be locked in a lifelong battle to resist its presence every minute of every day.  Besides being hopeful and positive, having persistence will help enable your daily journey with Parkinson’s.  In other words, persistence is not giving up without trying,  searching out and exploring new pathways for your life, and it certainly demands steadfast determination.

64* Quotes on Persistence to Help You Stay Positive and Hopeful, and to Keep You Exercising: (*Why 64? Because I’m 64 years old) I started with >100 quotes and ended up with this list; they are arranged alphabetically by the author’s first name. [This is the third time I’ve written about persistence in the presence of Parkinson’s; to read the first blog post “Persistence and Parkinson’s” click here, and to read the most recent blog post “Chapter 7: A Parkinson’s Reading Companion on Persistenceclick here.]  May these quotes about persistence bolster your daily dealing with this dastardly disorder named Parkinson’s.

  1. “I do the very best I know how, the very best I can and I mean to keep doing so until the end.” Abraham Lincoln
  2. “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Albert Einstein
  3. “The best view comes after the hardest climb.” Anonymous/Unknown
  4.  “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide n.ot to surrender, that is strength.” Arnold Schwarzenegger
  5. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
  6. “Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” Art Linkletter
  7. “Better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.” Atul Gawande
  8. “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” Babe Ruth
  9. “History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeat.” C. Forbes
  10. “As long as there’s breath in You–Persist!” Bernard Kelvin Clive
  11. “No great achievement is possible without persistent work.” Bertrand Russell
  12. “My greatest point is my persistence. I never give up in a match. However down I am, I fight until the last ball. My list of matches shows that I have turned a great many so-called irretrievable defeats into victories.” Bjorn Borg
  13. “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength, but through persistence.” Buddha
  14. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge
  15. “Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.” Colin Powell
  16. “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Confucius
  17.  “Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.” Earl Nightingale
  18. “A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.”Elbert Hubbard
  19. “If you are doing all you can to the fullest of your ability as well as you can, there is nothing else that is asked of a soul.” Gary Zukav
  20. ”Morale is the state of mind. It is steadfastness and courage and hope. It is confidence and zeal and loyalty. It is elan, esprit de corps and determination.” George C. Marshall
  21. “You go on. You set one foot in front of the other, and if a thin voice cries out, somewhere behind you, you pretend not to hear, and keep going.” Geraldine Brooks
  22. “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.” Hal Borland
  23. “Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  24. “The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is, that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.” Henry Ward Beecher
  25. “When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” Isak Dinesen
  26. “Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” Jacob A. Riis
  27. “The most essential factor is persistence–the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.” James Whitcomb Riley
  28. ”We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” Jesse Owens
  29. “This is the highest wisdom that I own; freedom and life are earned by those alone who conquer them each day anew.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  30. “Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.” John Quincy Adams
  31. “Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.” Julie Andrews
  32. “If you wish to be out front, then act as if you were behind.” Lao Tzu
  33. “You aren’t going to find anybody that’s going to be successful without making a sacrifice and without perseverance.“ Lou Holtz
  34. “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.” Louis Pasteur
  35. “Full effort is full victory.” Mahatma Gandhi
  36. “You’re not obligated to win. You’re obligated to keep trying to do the best you can every day.” Marina Wright Edelman
  37. “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
  38. “Courage doesn’t always roar, sometimes it’s the quiet voice at the end of the day whispering I will try again tomorrow.” Mary Anne Radmacher
  39. “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Maya Angelou
  40. “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” Maya Angelou
  41. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan
  42. “Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.” Mother Theresa
  43. “Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” Napoleon Hill
  44. “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Nelson Mandela
  45. “I will persist until I succeed. Always will I take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult. I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking.” Og Mandino
  46. “Enter every activity without giving mental recognition to the possibility of defeat. Concentrate on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses… on your powers, instead of your problems.” Paul J. Meyer
  47. “He conquers who endures.” Persius
  48. “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
  49. “We are human. We are not perfect. We are alive. We try things. We make mistakes. We stumble. We fall. We get hurt. We rise again. We try again. We keep learning. We keep growing. And we are thankful for this priceless opportunity called life.” Ritu Ghatourey
  50.  “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” Robert Collier
  51. “The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost
  52. “Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations build strong people in the end.” Roy Bennett
  53. “There are two ways of attaining an important end, force and perseverance; the silent power of the latter grows irresistible with time.” Sophie Swetchine
  54. “To succeed, you must have tremendous perseverance, tremendous will. “I will drink the ocean,” says the persevering soul; “at my will mountains will crumble up.” Have that sort of energy, that sort of will; work hard, and you will reach the goal.” Swami Vivekananda
  55. “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to always try just one more time.” Thomas Edison
  56. “Permanence, perseverance, and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragement, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.” Thomas Carlyle
  57. “With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.” Thomas Foxwell Buxton
  58. “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Thomas Jefferson
  59. “We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.” Tobias Wolff
  60. “I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed: and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying.” Tom Hopkins
  61. “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”  Vince Lombardi
  62. “Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” William James
  63. “Continuous effort–not strength or intelligence–is the key to unlocking our potential.” Winston Churchill
  64. “If you’re going through hell, keep going. Winston Churchill
Motivation using quotes on persistence and pictures/diagrams/ideas related to Parkinson’s:  I am a very visual person and I also need motivation as the new year begins with winter cold in North Carolina  (yes, we got some snow/freezing rain/ice, and yes Chapel Hill was mostly brought to a standstill; so we move on and hope for an early spring).  Therefore, to help me stay motivated to exercise every day,  and to remind me of all the benefits that exercise provides me against Parkinson’s progression I made the following images.

 

 Also displayed below are 12 additional quotes mounted on some colorful artful backgrounds.   Hopefully, this will provide you a template to make your own favorite motivational group of persistence quotes.

Please stay focused on taking the best care of you by working well with your family and support team, be honest with your movement disorder Neurologist, get plenty of exercise and try to sleep well.  You hold the key to unlock the plan to manage your Parkinson’s.

“Strength is found in each of us.  For those of us with Parkinson’s, we use our personal strengths of character to bolster our hope, courage, mindfulness/contentment/gratitude, determination, and the will to survive. Stay strong. Stay hopeful. Stay educated. Stay determined. Stay persistent. Stay courageous. Stay positive. Stay wholehearted. Stay mindful. Stay happy. Stay you.”  Frank C. Church

Cover Photo credit: http://www.wallpaperup.com/202084/morning_ice_sunrise_lake_snow_forest_winter_reflection.html

7 Tips and Healthy Habits for Working with Parkinson’s

“Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou

“The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” Elbert Hubbard

Précis: Over the past eight weeks, some loyal readers and several friends have asked me: “Is everything  okay?”; “Has my health taken a downturn?”; “Have you stopped writing your blog?”; “I have been worried about you because it has been well over six weeks since your last blog post.”  I responded to each that I was well and doing fine, my health has been steady. However, the fall semester (early August-early December) for me is over-flowing with my job/work (teaching, administrative and still trying to maintain some research) and other commitments (service) [let alone trying to find time to exercise and other personal time], which leads to very little spare time to even think about composing a blog post. I apologized to everyone who contacted me; and I do stand in awe of all of the bloggers I follow who are able to both write and work full-time at the same time.  Thus, the topic for the current post is about having a career/full-time job in the presence of Parkinson’s disease.

“The world is full of willing people; some willing to work, the rest willing to let them.” Robert Frost

There is an old saying that ‘there are people who work to live’ and that ‘there are people who live to work’: One of these phrases likely describes your attitude (or opinion) about your job/career.  One phrase is not more correct than the other phrase. Likely, one phrase will matter in which career path you follow and it will contribute to your overall satisfaction in work-matters.  Thus, an honest assessment will help you identify which of these beliefs you most are aligned with as your life and career unfolds.  Your happiness matters.

I have been in an academic medicine setting for the past 35 years and I am more closely linked with the phrase ‘live to work’.  I have never regretted this career choice.  It has taken me a long time to understand the how and the why of my academic career successes and advances mixed with the typical setbacks/compromises.  A dear friend recently told me she could not imagine me doing anything else career-wise, it’s a perfect match. Currently, I am still able to work 6 days/week with the following goals: educating future healthcare providers, serving on several committees, and planning that next experiment to get one more research proposal submitted/funded.  Then Parkinson’s happened.

“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” Vince Lombardi

The equilibrium between life and career: The “life-work equation” is now of primary importance to me.  My version can be summarized as given below (likely, you’d have different/additional variables in your own ‘personal’ life-work equation):

Health (exercise and living with Parkinson’s) + Living (importance of loved ones, family, friends, colleagues) + Career (teaching and research) = Life.

The spectrum of balancing life-work ranges from happy/positive/fulfilling to unhappy/unfulfilling/find something else to do/not enough time to manage my Parkinson’s.  Ultimately, at 64 years of age, and with Parkinson’s, I need to consider adding another possibility (or dimension) to my life-career equation, namely retirement.  Well, at least, the thought has been planted.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”  Steve Jobs

7 tips and healthy habits for working with Parkinson’s: Clearly, understanding and balancing your career is an important aspect to your life (something that has not always been obvious to me).  Taking care of your health and career, especially in the presence of Parkinson’s is of paramount importance and will contribute to your wellness and happiness.  These are straightforward suggestions for you to consider while working with Parkinson’s; hopefully, this list will serve as a reminder about their importance. Also shown below are several photos of me at work and at play. Here is a 1-page summary of the “7 Tips and Healthy Habits for Working with Parkinson’s” (Click here to download file).

Slide1

17.12.26b_7 Habits For Working with PD

[1] Executive Function. Executive function describes the group of mental skills that help you get things done. The frontal lobe of the brain controls your ability to execute these skills.  There are three key features to executive function: (1) working memory allows you to keep information in your mind and use it appropriately; (2) cognitive flexibility is being able to think about something in more than one way; and (3) inhibitory control  is being able to ignore something and resist temptation. Executive function allows you to manage time, pay attention, plan and organize, remember details and the ability to multitask.  Many with PD show a slow erosion of executive function. You need to recognize this aspect of your mind is partly responsible for your ability to work well (or not); therefore, keep going as best you can. 

executivefunctioncoaching3“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.“ Michael Porter

[2] Be willing to discuss your disease.  You have made the decision to inform others about your Parkinson’s and tell your friends and colleagues. Good for you!  In my case, I spent almost a year trying to avoid telling people about my Parkinson’s. Instead I just informed people who worked with me, my family and close friends. In hindsight, living openly with Parkinson’s is so much easier because everyone has been very supportive, receptive and very caring. To most people, Parkinson’s is a mystery. And it gets more difficult, not easier, when your colleagues (family and friends) acknowledge that they know about Michael J. Fox, Robin Williams and Mohammad Ali.  Educating your colleagues about you, your issues, your disease gives you so much credibility and bolsters respect among your peers.

This above all; to thine own self be true.” William Shakespeare

[3] Stay positive and go forward. At times, you live negatively and go backwards. Focus on staying positive and practice moving forward; your co-workers will appreciate the effort. A constant theme of this blog has been to try to remain positive and to live in a forward manner and not look backwards. We can reflect on today and you can plan for tomorrow all you can do is relive yesterday. It’s much better to stay positive and go forward.

List of positive words:

list-of-positive-words

Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.” Michael Jordan

[4] Exercise, sleep and eat well. In the absence of regular exercise, adequate sleep and a healthy diet you’ll be unable to work effectively.  Just do all three each day; everyone around you at work will care for you even more, why?  Because you are now positively fueling your entire body-mind. Go here for a few additional blog posts on these topics: exercise (9 Things to Know About Exercise-induced Neuroplasticity in Human Parkinson’s; Golf And Parkinson’s: A Game For Life; Meditation, Yoga, and Exercise in Parkinson’s); sleep (Sleep Disturbances in Parkinson’s and the Eagles Best Song Lyrics; Sleep, Relaxation, And Traveling; 7 Healthy Habits For Your Brain); and nutrition (Diet and Dementia (Cognitive Decline) in the Aging; B Vitamins (Folate, B6, B12) Reduce Homocysteine Levels Produced by Carbidopa/Levodopa Therapy).

17.12.28.Healthy_brain

A lifestyle is what you pay for; a life is what pays you.” Thomas Leonard

[5] Stress reduction and mindfulness. Cortisol is produced as a by-product from stress.  Mindfulness reduces stress to reduce cortisol levels, a winning scenario for you at work and your brain will be healthier.  Take time during the work-day to practice mindfulness; even 5’ daily improves your body-heart-mind-soul axis.

stressresponse

Men for the sake of getting a living forget to live.” Margaret Fuller

[6] Gadgets can make a big difference.  Technology today is simply amazing; take advantage of it to keep going in your job. For example, if you type a lot on a keyboard/computer, use dictation with Dragon®. If your posture is poor from sitting all day at a desk, get the BackJoy® and help better support your back.   I  definitely have  a tendency to sit too long when I’m focusing on work and writing; one way I deal with it is to have Alexa (my Amazon Echo Dot®) set a timer for every 20 minutes to get me up and stretching.  I also have my Fitbit Charge 2® exercise watch set in silent alarm mode to vibrate every five and six hours, respectively, to remind me to take my medication. Just a few examples of many.

Technology feeds on itself. Technology makes more technology possible.” Alvin Toffle

[7] Have a career plan with accommodations. Let’s  be realistic and accept the notion that our PD symptoms may eventually interfere with our work.  Be self-aware of these small physical/mental changes; be prepared (proactive) and have a Plan B or a Plan C ready to implement. Consider that stopping work and being diagnosed with Parkinson’s are both typically at 60 something years of age, which makes the intersection of job and PD diagnosis/progression a very important “X marks the spot”.

I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.” Albert Einstein

Working while with Parkinson’s:  I have had Parkinson’s for the past ~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.   For the past two years, I’ve been contemplating a couple of different plans once I stop working full-time. They consist of phasing-out retirement, exercise, PD outreach, teaching, and a few other ‘opportunities’ that I’m not yet ready to describe because they are still being developed. My future will likely be as busy as I am now but not necessarily all at the same place or at the same time.  When the full-time clock stops ticking it will be because either “it’s time, I’ve done enough” or my health has interfered with my schedule. My plan is still a couple of years away from being implemented. Like everyone with Parkinson’s, I’m acutely cognizant of my disorder. In the meantime, I have much left to accomplish with my education-science-service-outreach.

“Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.” Mark Twain

“Beingness, doingness and havingness are like a triangle where each side supports the others. They are not in conflict with each other. They all exist simultaneously. Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: They try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” Shakti Gawain

Cover photo credit: xinature.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/winter-trees-sun-lake-ice-dusk-sunshine-nature-water-snow-scene-landscape-sunrise-dawn-desktop-scenes.jpg

Executive function image: goosecreekconsulting.com/picts/executivefunctioncoaching.jpg

Stress response image: themeditatingman.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/stressresponse.jpg

Effect of Forgiveness on Health

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.”  Bernard Meltzer

“The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.” Marianne Williamson

Précis: Recently had a friend go through a difficult break-up from a marriage. The notion of getting past the failed relationship, achieving forgiveness, and moving on without causing illness was of paramount importance. The implications of forgiveness/unforgiveness as it relates to health-illness crossed my mind. It started with assembling the quotes in this post. Next, I did a Google Scholar search for “forgiveness and health” and discovered a whole new area of psychology-science-medicine (well, it was new to me). Most of us would agree that forgiving yourself promotes wellness; whereas remaining unforgiven could disrupt your mental and possibly even your physical health.  This post reviews forgiveness and its positive impact on our health.

“Forgiveness is really a gift to yourself – have the compassion to forgive others, and the courage to forgive yourself.” Mary Anne Radmach

Forgiveness and Health: The Oxford dictionary defines ‘forgive’ as to stop feeling angry and resentful towards (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.  Positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Forgiveness is a big part of positive psychology regarding both physical and mental well-being.   Over the past 15 years, researchers have focused on 2 primary hypotheses: (1) forgiveness has important connections to physical health; and (2) this relationship is guided by an association between lack of forgiveness and anger.  Evidently, there is consensus in the field that these two primary processes form the basis of forgiveness: (i) letting go of one’s right to resentment and negative judgment; and (ii) fostering undeserved compassion and generosity toward the perpetrator.  The first process implies a person would reduce their negative emotions (i.e., anger and revenge); while  the second process involves increasing positive feelings and might even include reconciliation. Collectively, there is growing scientific evidence that links the positivity of forgiveness and health.

“He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The more you know yourself, the more you forgive yourself.” Confucius

Forgiveness vs. Unforgiveness: It is probably apparent (to you) that forgiveness is generally associated with improved mental and physical health, as opposed to someone unable/unwilling to forgive.  Modeling the relationship between forgiveness and health, based on the hypothesis that forgiveness reduces hostility (and this would be considered healthier), 6 paths linking forgiveness and health have been described: (i) decrease in chronic blaming and anger; (ii) reduction in chronic hyper-arousal [“a state of increased psychological and physiological tension marked by such effects as reduced pain tolerance, anxiety, exaggeration of startle responses, insomnia, fatigue and accentuation of personality traits.”]; (iii) optimistic thinking; (iv) self-efficacy to take health-related actions; (v) social support; and (vi) transcendent consciousness (“state achieved through the practice of transcendental meditation in which the individual’s mind transcends all mental activity to experience the simplest form of awareness“).

What does this mean? The majority of studies on forgiveness indicate a reciprocal relationship to hostility, anger, anxiety and depression.  Forgiveness may directly alter sympathetic reactivity, which is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. These responses include increases in heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac contractility, and cortisol.  This implies that unforgiveness could promote an acute, stress-induced reactivity that could be associated with general health problems.  However, it is much more complicated than this simplistic flow of events: anger is a component of unforgiveness; anger is a health risk; therefore, unforgiveness is a health risk.  This is really interesting reading but way beyond my training as a protein biochemist (If interested, look over the references listed below)

Forgiveness and Mental Health: Let’s take a different angle by looking at mental health. We begin with unforgiveness as being associated with stress from an ‘interpersonal’ offense and stress is associated with diminished mental health. Furthermore, unforgiveness due to an ‘intrapersonal’ wrongdoing may lead to shame, regret and guilt, which could also negatively affect mental health. The positive impact of forgiveness may help correct the downturn in mental health that resulted from either interpersonal or intrapersonal stress.  In many instances, mental health is linked to physical health. This suggests that practicing forgiveness would positively influence mental health and could therein bolster physical health.

To summarize the ability of forgiveness to bolster mental health, I have re-drawn the figure from Toussaint and Webb  (2005) as a 4-piece puzzle. It begins with the ‘direct effect’ of forgiveness as told through unforgiveness with emotions of resentment, bitterness, hatred, residual hostility, and fear. The negative emotions of unforgiveness could contribute significantly to mental health problems.  By contrast, the emotion of forgiveness is positive and strong and love-based that could improve mental health. The ‘indirect effect’ of forgiveness through social support, interpersonal behavior and health behavior are all positively-linked to good mental health. The ‘developmental stage’ describes the recognition of the problem, need for an alternative solution, and ultimately the effect of forgiveness augments mental health.  The final piece to the puzzle is the ‘attributional process’, which suggests that being able to forgive bolsters personal control of one’s life, which is perceived to be positive.  By contrast, unforgiveness blocks this life-controlling process by consumptive negative emotions made worse in the individual through rumination.  Due to my own internal word limit and time-period to read/understand the topic, I have not included the religious or spiritual basis of the forgiveness of God, feeling God’s forgiveness, and seeking God’s forgiveness in the narrative of this post.  For many people, these would be integral components to the discussion here on forgiveness and its overall impact on both mental and physical health.

Forgiveness.2

“I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all.” Maya Angelou

9 Steps to Forgiveness (Fred Luskin, LearningToForgive.com): Dr. Luskin is a noted-researcher in the field of forgiveness. His belief is that by practicing forgiveness, your anger, hurt, depression and stress will all be reduced and it will increase feelings of hope, compassion and self confidence. Furthermore, he believes that practicing forgiveness contributes to healthy relationships and to improved physical health; here are the 9 steps to forgiveness:

  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
  3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
  4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
  5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
  6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.
  8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” Lewis B. Smedes

Forgiveness in the Presence of Parkinson’s:  Receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, a lifelong chronic progressive neurodegenerative disorder is a real shock.  The diagnosis comes with a variety of emotions. After a while, acceptance takes over; no, not your identify, just ok, I’ve got Parkinson’s, live through it, make the most of this experience. Eventually I had to put forgiveness into part of this living-life-equation. There were two self-involved events where I might have contributed to the development of my own disease.  The first was as a young boy in the summertime riding my bicycle behind the DDT trucks spraying for mosquitoes on our Air Force bases [Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) is a colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless crystalline organochlorine known for its insecticidal properties]. DDT is one of the known chemical inducers of Parkinson’s. Second, in graduate school before OSHA took over regulating lab safety, I routinely used many different noxious compounds for the benefit of science and for the completion of my PhD. Both events caused me to pause and ponder; however, I decided to forgive myself. I truly believe had I remained unforgiving, I would have paved a path of ill health.

This whole process of dealing with the emotion from diagnosis to acceptance (and forgiveness) of Parkinson’s reminds me of the opening verse of “We Are The Champions” by Queen: “I paid my dues/ time after time./ I’ve done my sentence/ but committed no crime./ And bad mistakes-/ I’ve made a few./ I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face/ but I’ve come through./  (And I need to go on and on, and on, and on)

The vast majority of people with Parkinson’s are 60-years of age or older (although there is a group of early-age-onset). Interestingly, in a recent study with an elderly population, forgiveness showed positive and significant association with mental and physical health.

“You cannot travel back in time to fix your mistakes, but you can learn from them and forgive yourself for not knowing better.” Leon Brown

“Accept the past as past, without denying it or discarding it.” Mitch Albom

Forgive Ourselves: Dr. Elaine in her post “The-healing-power-of-forgiveness” nicely summarized self-forgiveness: “We tend to believe that forgiveness supports the transgression that has been committed against us. But forgiveness is not an endorsement of wrongdoing; rather, it’s an act of releasing the pain and hurt it caused through love, the root of forgiveness—and it is not love of the other but of the self. We must forgive ourselves as well as others in order to be whole and healed.”

Effect of Forgiveness on Health: The sum total of our health is a complex formula that differs slightly for each one of us.  Those of us with a progressive neurodegenerative disorder like Parkinson’s increases the complexity of this life-equation.  Thus, dealing with the axis defined by forgiveness/unforgiveness in the matter of health (both mental and physical) clearly could complicate our health.  Truly we need to add forgiveness as a filter to our life-lens; the benefits from this addition should favor our health in the long-run.

“If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self.” Maya Angelou

Cover photo credit: https://orig05.deviantart.net/0a42/f/2015/095/1/6/painted_wallpaper___fog_on_lake_by_dasflon-d8oiudk

Useful References:

Lawler KA, Younger JW, Piferi RL, Jobe RL, Edmondson KA, Jones WH. The Unique Effects of Forgiveness on Health: An Exploration of Pathways. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2005;28(2):157-67. doi: 10.1007/s10865-005-3665-2.

Akhtar, S., Dolan, A., & Barlow, J. (2017). Understanding the Relationship Between State Forgiveness and Psychological Wellbeing: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Religion and Health, 56(2), 450–463. http://doi.org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1007/s10943-016-0188-9

Lawler-Row KA, Karremans JC, Scott C, Edlis-Matityahou M, Edwards L. Forgiveness, physiological reactivity and health: The role of anger. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 2008;68(1):51-8. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.01.001.

Rey L, Extremera N. Forgiveness and health-related quality of life in older people: Adaptive cognitive emotion regulation strategies as mediators. Journal of Health Psychology. 2016;21(12):2944-54. doi: 10.1177/1359105315589393. PubMed PMID: 26113528.

Toussaint, L., J.R. Webb.  Theoretical and empirical connections between forgiveness, mental health, and well-being E.L. Worthington Jr (Ed.), Handbook of forgiveness, Brunner–Routledge, New York (2005), pp. 207-226

 

 

 

 

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).

17.05.04.NIH.Funding

“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.

15.05.11.Lab_Organization

“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.

bright-future-ahead-1024x772
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/

7 Healthy Habits For Your Brain

   “Your brain – every brain – is a work in progress. It is ‘plastic.’ From the day we’re born to the day we die, it continuously revises and remodels, improving or slowly declining, as a function of how we use it.” Michael Merzenich

“The root of all health is in the brain. The trunk of it is in emotion. The branches and leaves are the body. The flower of health blooms when all parts work together.” Kurdish Saying

7 Basic Brain Facts [click here for more facts]: (1) The typical brain is ~2% of your total weight but it uses 20% of your total energy and oxygen intake. (2) >100,000 chemicals reactions/sec occur in your brain. (3) The latest estimate is that our brains contain ~86 billion brain cells. (4) In contrast to the popular belief that we use ~10% of our brains; brain scans show we use most of our brain most of the time. (5) There are as many as 10,000 specific types of neurons in the brain.  (6) Cholesterol is an integral part of every brain cell. Twenty-five percent of the body’s cholesterol resides within the brain. (7) Your brain generates between 12-25 watts of electricity, which is enough to power a low wattage LED light.

7 Healthy Habits for Your Brain: With or without Parkinson’s disease, taking care of your brain is all-important to your overall well-being, life-attitude, and health. These are  straightforward suggestions of healthy habits for your brain; hopefully, this list will serve as a reminder about their importance.  Here is a 1-page summary of the “7 Healthy Habits for Your Brain” (Click here to download file).

7-healthy-habits-for-your-brain


[1] Exercise and neuroplasticity:
  Exercise is almost like a soothing salve for your brain.  Some benefits of exercise include helping your memory and increased flow of oxygen to brain, which energizes the brain.  Exercise is good for both your heart and your brain. Exercise can reduce inflammation in the brain and increase hormones circulating to your brain.  For a brief overview on the benefits of exercise to your brain, click here.

Neuroplasticity is the ability to re-draw, re-wire the connections in your brain. What this means is that neuroplasticity is a concerted attempt of neurons to compensate for brain injury/disease. Neuroplasticity ultimately modifies your brain’s activities in response to changes in these neuronal-environments.

There is much positive evidence in animal models of Parkinson’s regarding exercise-induced neuroplasticity.  The same benefits are now being tested in humans with Parkinson’s and the results are most encouraging. One of the numerous backlogged blog drafts that will be completed in the near-future is a “Review of Exercise and Neuroplasticity in Parkinson’s”.

“Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being.” John Ratey

“Neuroplasticity research showed that the brain changes its very structure with each different activity it performs, perfecting its circuits so it is better suited to the task at hand.” Naveen Jain

[2] Diet and brain food: Your memory is aided by ‘what’ you eat.  Harvard’s Women Health Watch makes the following suggestion to boost your memory through diet (click here to read entire article): “The Mediterranean diet includes several components that might promote brain health: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil help improve the health of blood vessels, reducing the risk for a memory-damaging stroke; Fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to lower levels of beta-amyloid proteins in the blood and better vascular health; Moderate alcohol consumption raises levels of healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Alcohol also lowers our cells’ resistance to insulin, allowing it to lower blood sugar more effectively. Insulin resistance has been linked to dementia.”  WebMD summarized the role of diet and brain health in “Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain” (click here to read article).

A large group of women (>13,000 participants) over the age of 70 were studied and the results showed that the women who ate the most vegetables had the greater mental agility (click here to read the article). These results suggest for a healthy brain we should eat colorful fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants; and foods rich in natural vitamin E, vitamin C, B (B6, B12) folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, we should avoid refined carbohydrates and saturated fats. In small amounts, vitamin D3 is almost like candy for your brain.

“Hunger, prolonged, is temporary madness! The brain is at work without its required food, and the most fantastic notions fill the mind.” Jules Verne

“Everything one reads is nourishment of some sort – good food or junk food – and one assumes it all goes in and has its way with your brain cells.” Lorrie Moore

[3] Mindfulness/meditation: Greater Good (The Science of a Meaningful Life) describes mindfulness as “…maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to think or feel in a given moment.”  I recently described mindfulness as “Mindfulness means you stay within your breath, and focus within yourself, with no remembrance of the past minute and no planning for the future moment.”  Here’s a simple mindfulness experience/moment: simply be aware of the steam leaving your morning cup of coffee/tea, clear your immediate thoughts, then sip, focus and savor this moment.

“The picture we have is that mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order, pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity,” a comment from Dr. Adrienne Taren, a researcher studying mindfulness at the University of Pittsburgh. She also said  “it’s the disconnection of our mind from its ‘stress center’ that seems to give rise to a range of physical as well as mental health benefits.”  (Click here to read this article).  “What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?” (click here to read more)

“Mindfulness practices enhance the connection between our body, our mind and everything else that is around us.” Nhat Hanh

“Mindfulness is a pause — the space between stimulus and response: that’s where choice lies.” Tara Brach

 [4] Stress reduction: When you are under constant or chronic stress your body makes more of the steroid hormone cortisol (a glucocorticoid), which is produced by the adrenal glands above your kidneys.  Over time, chronic stress can trigger changes in brain structure and function. Excess cortisol production reduces neuronal cells, over-produces myelin protective covering to our nerves, and we make more oligodendrocytes.  How do you reduce chronic stress?  Exercise and mindfulness/meditation are both able to lower cortisol levels.  Easier said then done to making life-style changes to reduce chronic stress; however, doing it will allow the neuroplastic process to begin re-wiring your brain. For an overview of stress and trying to manage/reduce chronic stress, click here.

“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency.” Natalie Goldberg

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” Mahatma Gandhi

[5] Work, keep active mentally:  There are 2 sides to this topic.  First, stay engaged at work and you won’t age as fast as someone disengaged.  What I’m trying to say is simply staying active mentally at work will assist your brain during the ageing process.  Keep your brain stimulated with work, thought, challenges; the effort provides your brain with significant growth.  Your reward will be an active-focused and rejuvenated mind.  Second, by contrast, we’re all working long hours balancing too many tasks, all-the-time; ultimately, we’re trying to multi-task when we really can’t multi-task very well.  In a nice article entitled “The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time“, Tony Schwartz summarized a key problem: “It’s not just the number of hours we’re working, but also the fact that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time. What we’ve lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries.”  As you balance the 2-sides-of-the-topic, focus your energy on the first-side by performing each individual task/topic; clear your mind, keep your brain engaged, focus hard and then let your brain renew.

“To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces.” Arthur Conan Doyle

“A fresh mind keeps the body fresh. Take in the ideas of the day, drain off those of yesterday.” Edward Bulwer-Lytton

 [6] Positive and happy is better for your brain:  I truly believe you need to be positive in dealing with Parkinson’s; trying to focus on staying happy will benefit all-around you and bolster your brain’s health. Using positivity will allow you to creatively handle many obstacles ahead, whether in the absence or presence of Parkinson’s.  Susan Reynolds summarized in “Happy Brain, Happy Life” that being happy: “stimulates the growth of nerve connections; improves cognition by increasing mental productivity; improves your ability to analyze and think; affects your view of surroundings; increases attentiveness; and leads to more happy thoughts.”  On the notion of staying positive, she said: “…thinking positive, happy, hopeful, optimistic, joyful thoughts decreases cortisol and produces serotonin, which creates a sense of well-being. This helps your brain function at peak capacity.”


Positive

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

“You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body.” Shawn Achor

[7] Sleep: It’s simple; our brains, our bodies need sleep.  Many of us battle with less than adequate daily sleep habits.  However, it’s really simple; our brains, our bodies need sleep.  Much of our day’s success resides in the quality of sleep the night before.  The science of sleep is complex but much of it revolves around our brain.  We use sleep to renew and de-fragment our brain; and sleep helps strengthen our memory.  For more details on sleep science, please look over “What Happens in the Brain During Sleep?” (click here).  Alice G. Walton very nicely summarized several aspects of the sleep-brain interactions focusing on the following 7 headings: “Sleep helps solidify memory; Toxins, including those associated with Alzheimer’s disease, are cleared during sleep; Sleep is necessary for cognition; Creativity needs sleep; Sleep loss and depression are  intertwined; Physical health and longevity; and Kids need their sleep” [click here for “7 Ways Sleep Affects The Brain (And What Happens If It Doesn’t Get Enough)”].  Finally, the Rand Corp. just released a comprehensive study on sleep and the economic burden being caused by the lack of sleep (click here to read the 100-page report).

Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.Thomas Dekker

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.   Irish Proverb

A Personal Reflection on the “7 Healthy Habits for Your Brain”:  My fall semester is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining; and I cherish doing all of these tasks, I really do.  The writing of this blog is a deliberate attempt to remind me what I need to be doing, to re-initiate tomorrow in my daily life.  I could explain each point in detail in what poor-brain-health-habits I’ve developed this semester (but I won’t).  However, I am printing out the 1-page handout of 7-healthy-brain-habits to keep it with me as I spend the rest of December re-establishing effective habits for my brain; and doing a better job of balancing work with life-love-fun.

“Your body, which is bonding millions of molecules every second, depends on transformation. Breathing and digestion harness transformation. Food and air aren’t just shuffled about but, rather, undergo the exact chemical bonding needed to keep you alive. The sugar extracted from an orange travels to the brain and fuels a thought. The emergent property in this case is the newness of the thought; no molecules in the history of the universe ever combined to produce that exact thought.” Deepak Chopra

Cover image: https://img1.etsystatic.com/000/0/6392236/il_fullxfull.267319437.jpg

Mindfulness list: http://www.mindful.org/7-things-mindful-people-do-differently-and-how-to-get-started/

Save

Save

Save

Save

Believe in Life in the Presence of Parkinson’s

“Life is not only merriment, it is desire and determination.” Kahlil Gibran

“Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou

Dedication: I recently participated in a Parkinson Wellness Recovery (PWR!) Instructor Workshop in Greenville, SC (July 30-31, 2016); now I am certified in PWR!Moves.  This post is dedicated to the workshop instructor Jennifer Bazan-Wigle; and to my classmates, all of the personal trainers interested in working with Parkinson’s disease patients.  Jennifer was simply a great instructor, with a real understanding of Parkinson’s and a true ability to ‘teach’.  The personal trainers who participated were very dedicated in their effort to master PWR!Moves and their willingness to instruct me during the weekend workshop made for a memorable experience.  And not to forget Steve Miller, a PWR!Moves instructor, who also helped teach; you were the inspiration that led me to apply for this workshop. To everyone certified in PWR!Moves and to those involved in my PWR!Moves workshop, thank you, thank you so very much.

PWR! Logo

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” Beverly Sills

Introduction: Coach Lou Holtz said “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”  This got me thinking about ability, motivation and attitude but especially how vital both motivation and attitude are for living successfully with Parkinson’s.

Believe in Life in the Presence of Parkinson’s:
I’m a healthy person that happens to have Parkinson’s; this is what I believe:
I believe daily exercise enhances my life in the presence of Parkinson’s.
I believe people-with-Parkinson’s can become healthier with exercise.
I believe sustained exercise can promote neuroplasticity to re-wire my neural network.
I believe I have the ability to do the repetitions to re-train my brain.
I believe staying positive will help control the course of my Parkinson’s.
I believe having courage will provide mettle in the battle against my disorder.
I believe being persistent allows me to restrain my Parkinson’s.
I believe motivation begins from within, and there can be no backing down to this disease.
I believe if I don’t give up I can slow the progression of my disorder.
I believe if you pity me it feeds the hunger of my Parkinson’s.
I believe if you join my team, you can help me stall this slowly evolving disorder.
I believe attitude is the fuel to sustain the effort to combat Parkinson’s.
I believe in science that new therapies/strategies against Parkinson’s are on the horizon.
I believe exercise with ability, motivation and attitude will work to my advantage each day.
I believe that each new day renews my chance of slowing the beast named Parkinson’s.
My daily mantra is to never give up; I refuse to surrender to Parkinson’s.

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.” Mahatma Gandhi

Cover photo credit: https://c7.staticflickr.com/9/8615/16157237102_f15e505c19_b.jpg

 

Save