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Sunday, April 11, 1999 Published at 02:07 GMT 03:07 UK


Health

Public ignorance about Parkinson's attacked

Muhammad Ali is one of many well-known Parkinson's sufferers

Misconceptions about Parkinson's Disease can make it harder for patients to get the treatment they need, says a leading charity.

The Parkison's Disease Society (PDS) is marking Parkinson's Awareness Week with a campaign to dispel myths about the condition which affects one in 500 people in the UK.

It says the public often think only elderly people get the disease; that they are stupid and always suffer from tremors.

Many doctors are ignorant about the condition as well, it states.

The PDS has produced a checklist of symptoms for doctors to help them make a referral.

"Many people find it difficult to get a referral to a consultant neurologist and many do not have their medication reviewed for years," it says.

It has set up a charity to promote understanding of the disease as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations.

Cell death

Parkinson's is a progressive, neurological disorder, which is mainly treated with drugs.

It can affect all aspects of a person's life and occurs when cells in the part of the brain which controls movement are lost.

The cells produce a chemical messenger which aids co-ordination.


[ image: Michael J Fox and many other Parkinson's sufferers are under 40]
Michael J Fox and many other Parkinson's sufferers are under 40
It is not known what the cells die, but once 80% have been destroyed, the symptoms of Parkinson's will appear.

They include shaking, slowness of movement and muscle stiffness.

Well-known sufferers include film star Michael J Fox, Muhammad Ali and artist Salvador Dali.

Around 120,000 people in the UK have the disease.

Drugs normally are very effective at treatment of the initial symptoms, but long-term use leads to severe side effects.

Ignorance

The PDS says that, in the early stages, people with Parkinson's can have a good lifestyle, but people often perceive them to be stupid, a misery and ignorant.

Most think all sufferers experience tremors when, in fact, about 15% never do.

"A diagnosis of Parkinson's cannot be ruled out simply because someone does not experience a tremor," says the PDS.

It is widely thought that only elderly people get Parkinson's when one in 20 sufferers are under 40.

The public also tend to think people with Parkinson's are stupid, mainly because of their difficulty in communicating in the later stages of the disease.

Communication

People with Parkinson's can lose up to 93% of their ability to communicate, says the charity.

It defines communication as not only speaking, but also tone of voice, intonation, volume and facial expression.

This can lead to them becoming very isolated and frustrated.

The PDS says: "People with Parkinson's often appear impassive because of difficulties with facial expressions such as frowning and smiling.

"Movements also become increasingly slow and difficult," it says.

"As facial expression and body language are a vital part of communication, the person with Parkinson's may wrongly be perceived as being rude, miserable or stupid.

"When these symptoms are combined with slurred speech, also a common result of Parkinson's, some people may assume they are drunk."

Parkinson's Awareness Week runs from 10 to 18 April.

For more information, contact the PDS on 0171 931 8080.



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