Rigid and Akinetic

He is a model of rigid akinetic Parkinson’s disease, as opposed to the tremor dominant type. A compact man with a receding hairline of thick wavy and whitening hair, his nose is hooked. The skin of his face is pale and wraps his cheekbones tightly. He admits he’s never suffered from tremor, a good thing when welding. He’s an artist, primarily a sculptor. He calls himself an art teacher. The doctor asks to see his work, noting he appreciates art. All sorts of toxic substances- manganese, cobalt and solvents increased the risk he would acquire the illness. Today he is either
under- medicated or does not have PD. He sits like a rock in the yellow plastic chair. As he speaks he moves his mouth, but he doesn’t fidget, scratch, blink or shift his weight. He shoots his left eyebrow up, once.

The patient and the doctor begin their words at the same time, more than once their voices overlap. When a pronounced delay in response sends the room to silence, the wife tries to help by reminding her spouse of the sequence of events. It has been six or seven years since the diagnosis, the initial symptoms are hard to recall. Still symptoms, diagnosis and treatment began within a period of a year. Not good, in the opinion of the physician…He can’t recall feeling any improvement with medications. The specialist declares the patient is inadequately medicated or doesn’t respond to levodopa.

He begins drawing a chart, describing how to increase the dose of Sinemet from one pill, four times daily to a possible maximum of ten pills daily. The idea is to increase the dosage, then observe the response the body makes on the following two days. Always increase the dose by half a pill, in a staircase fashion, halting progression if feeling nausea. If nausea continues at that dose, then step backward a half pill. The object is to discover what the correct dose is to alleviate most symptoms. Fluidity of movement, increased arm swing in walking, loosening of joints are as three aspects for possible improvement.

The doctor hands the patient the medication progression chart, requesting he return in three months. He is not free, yet. Both patient and spouse agree to provide their blood for a study searching for possible biomarkers in PD. This entity in blood would change along with the progression of illness, providing another source to document disease progression. Physicians determine the progression of illness by physical exam, but it gets tricky when patients rely on medication to be fully functional. Visual scanning techniques can also document loss of dopamine in the substantia nigra, but the procedure is costly, and dopamine-producing cells dwindle naturally with aging before producing parkinsonian symptoms.

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