About five years ago she noticed the tremor in her right hand. Now as she sits in the examination room, her slightly swollen hand vacillates steadily as she rests it on the arm of the chair. She feels the muscles cramping and shortening and uses her other hand to straighten the fingers. Gradually she has lost most of the strength, dexterity and the ability to write legibly. She states she has taken Azilect for two years and sees little improvement.
Ah, but that’s good, the doctor states. It means progression of your illness is slow; the other side of the body may be affected with disease, within that time. The comment buoys the patient’s sentiments, somewhat. The specialist in movement disorders asks about her prior medical history and learns the patient underwent heart surgery to amend a leaking heart valve, seven months prior. Surgeons removed her thyroid two years ago and she suffers from high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. She states she is healthy, otherwise; comments from an optimist.
As the specialist dives into a description of how and who implicated dopamine as the neurotransmitter depleted in Parkinson’s disease, the steady murmur of his voice and the quality of the fluorescent overhead lights lulls the listeners into a stupor. The patient has brought a cup of coffee with her, remarking it’s decaffeinated, and the doctor remarks smoking and drinking coffee are two habits that are negatively correlated with illness and PD; the more one smokes and drinks coffee, the smaller the likelihood one will acquire PD.
On physical examination of the patient, the specialist discovers brisk reflexes; probably a byproduct of high blood pressure he comments. He inquires whether she has had an MRI of the brain, as people with long-standing high blood pressure commonly have a multitude of small white spots scattered just under the cortex of the brain. The neurologist feels the fluidity of movement from the left elbow and wrist and senses some rigidity in the muscles of the biceps. When he asks her to walk in the hallway, her gait is regular, with wide steps though she tends to hold the right arm and hand at her side, while she swings the left.
Sitting again in the examination room the patient asks about exercise. The doctor encourages the patient to discover when her cardiologist feels it safe to increase her heart rate, and then describes a clinical experiment in which researchers trained monkeys to jog on a tread mill six hours a day. Those mokeys that underwent an experimental unilateral injection of a toxin that destroys dopamine neurons to one side of the brain, recuperated much faster, while those that did no exercise remained disabled. He states exercise, especially aerobic activity, enhances repair in the brain and provides a neuroprotective benefit. The patient confides she had to end her membership to the gym, as the temptation to get on the aerobic machines was overwhelming. She states she has always been an active person, and not allowing her heart rate to climb has been difficult. Yoga and Tai Chi are also helpful for those with PD, the physician states.
The doctor creates a chart for the patient, detailing how to increase the dosage of Sinemet. She should aim for the smallest dose that eliminates the stiffness and rigidity in her hand. He also encourages her to seek physical therapy for her hand, to regain strength and extensibility in the muscles. The doctor states he would like to see her again in three months time to see whether the transition to Sinemet has gone smoothly.
Before leaving, the patient reveals she lived in Alaska for sixteen years raising four children. The darkness of the winters never bothered her, or made her feel blue; an unusual blessing for a person with PD, where depression affects 70% of the patient population.