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Is Part of Parkinson's Disease Mystery Nearly Solved?

Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease at age 30. (Cliff/Flickr)
Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease at age 30. (Cliff/Flickr)
March 13, 2017

BOISE, Idaho – Actor Michael J. Fox put a face on a disease that plagues about a million people in the United States. Parkinson's is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that causes shaking, tremors and a loss of balance.

It affects about one in 100 people and on average, strikes at age 60. Although not as common, it hits young people as well. Fox was diagnosed at 30.

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 known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) so she wouldn't have to rely on so many medications.

She thought the idea of brain surgery was terrifying, but added that she is 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," said Weinschreider. "It's kind of like if you can get through one hard day in your life that improves so many, hopefully, years ahead of me, it's well worth it."

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 will rely on medications until researchers find a cure. There are support groups for Parkinson's patients located throughout Idaho.

While there is no cure for Parkinson's right now, Dr. Christopher Goetz, director of the Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Chicago's Rush University, believes 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, it's quite selective. And therefore, we think that if we understand that biochemistry, we really can nip this at the very earliest stage," Goetz said. "We can envision 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 said there are a lot of side effects with medications, and some of them don't work very well, all of which can have a big impact on daily life.

"Especially for people that are working or have small children," she noted. "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."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID