The 18–24th April is Parkinson’s Awareness Week. Parkinson’s UK, the country’s largest charity dedicated to researching and aiding those with the condition and their loves ones, focuses on a different aspect every year. One in every 500 people in the UK will suffer from Parkinson’s disease and charities and healthcare professionals estimate that around 127,000 people in the UK presently has it.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease affects the nervous system. There is a chemical in the brain called ‘dopamine’; people who have the condition do not have enough of this chemical. Having low levels leads to the Parkinson’s disease, which has some of the following symptoms:
- Shaking: The most common symptom of Parkinson’s disease is uncontrollable shaking; it happens whether the sufferer is moving or sitting or lying still.
- Motor Functions: Similarly, sufferers struggle to keep control over some of their most basic functions. This can include difficulty in sitting and standing and moving around.
- Dementia: Though not guaranteed, it is much more likely that a Parkinson’s sufferer will experience this symptom too.
- Difficulty sleeping: Sufferers may struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep. They may also be fidgety and need to keep going to the toilet in the night; others experience night terrors.
- Depression: Most debilitating illnesses put the patient more at risk of mental illness. For Parkinson’s, that is even more likely as lower dopamine levels are linked to depression. If dementia is not present, the patient may be fully aware that he or she is losing basic functions.
Parkinson’s Disease Awareness 2016
This year, Parkinson’s UK does not have a theme for the Awareness Week. Last year saw the Twitter trend #UpYourFriendly, encouraging people to simply be kinder to each other, particularly those with debilitating illnesses – kindness and friendliness go a long way.
There are many events up and down the country this year, and they have helpfully listed them on their website, inviting others to do the same. Their website has an interactive map where organisers, campaigners and even local people just like you are listing their events to raise awareness and money for this important cause. Take a look and maybe see what is going on in your area between 18th and 24th April.
Famous People with Parkinson’s Disease
Billy Connolly: The actor and comedian had a very difficult 2013. In that year, not only did he receive treatment for prostate cancer, but also received a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. He became aware of problems when he had trouble remembering lines at a rehearsal.
Deborah Kerr: She was an icon of the 1940s and 1960s, appearing in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus and King Solomon’s Mines. She stopped acting in the 1960s as her health worsened; the actress died in 2007 from Parkinson’s disease.
Margo MacDonald: A phenomenal woman who served as Deputy Leader of the SNP, and as independent MP for Glasgow in the mid-1970s. She was still in office as a serving MSP when she died in April 2014. Custom dictates that her MSP seat remain vacant until the next election (May 2016).
Mervyn Peake: The writer and artist, best known for the surreal and quirky fantasy series Gormenghast, died before he was able to complete his iconic work. Just three were published. At the time, it was believed he suffered from Parkinson’s disease but a more recent examination found he had a related illness called Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB).
Michael J Fox: Diagnosed at a relatively young age (30) in 1991, Fox remained silent for many years about the illness. His workload has dropped off due to health reasons but he still appears on screen. Most of his work now centres on The Michael J. Fox Foundation, a charity researching Parkinson’s disease therapies and cures.
Muhammad Ali: The former world champion heavyweight boxer, icon of the sport, is undoubtedly the most famous person to have Parkinson’s disease. Doctors believe that his years of boxing the contributed in a major way to his condition.