Doctor: Cure May be Near for Parkinson's
CHICAGO – Actor Michael J. Fox has drawn attention to a disease that plagues about 1 million people in the U.S. – Parkinson's. It's a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that causes shaking, tremors and a loss of balance.
Parkinson's disease affects about 1 in 100 people, and on average it strikes at age 60. Although not as common, it hits young people as well.
Fox was diagnosed at age 30. Illinois resident Kelly Weinschreider received her diagnosis at 29 and now reaches out to other young people who need advice, or just someone to talk to.
Weinschreider chose to have a procedure called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) so she wouldn't have to rely on so many medications, and says the idea of brain surgery was terrifying but adds she's better now because of it.
"The thought and the hope that DBS would help my symptoms and essentially reduce my medications and just really improve my quality of life, made it worth it,” she states. “It's kind of like if you can get through one hard day in your life that improves so many – hopefully many – years ahead of me, it's well worth it."
Doctors say DBS isn't the answer for everyone. Fox revealed that shortly after having the surgery to correct the tremors on the left side of his body, the right side of his body started showing symptoms. He later announced he would rely on medications until researchers find a cure.
While there is no cure for Parkinson's right now, Dr. Christopher Goetz, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Rush University, says scientists are close to understanding why some cells that send signals to the body controlling movement are destroyed.
"This is an area where the whole brain is not affected,” he explains. “It's quite selective, and therefore we think that if we understand that biochemistry we really can nip this at the very earliest stage. It is envisionable that we will crack this disease within the next decade."
Until that happens, those with Parkinson's are able to live a mostly normal life.
Weinschreider says there are a lot of side effects with medications, and some of them don't work very well. She says that can have a big impact on daily life.
"Especially for people that are working or have small children,” she states. “It affects a lot of people at young ages that are at different stages of their lives. And it's difficult to remember to take your meds, and the disease itself varies from day to day."