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November 14th, 2012
08:16 AM ET

Parkinson's didn't stop his space walk

Editor's note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  As a teenager Rich Clifford dreamed of being an astronaut. After a successful career in the army, his dream of traveling into space came true.  Then he was diagnosed with a serious brain disorder - a secret he kept for 15 years.

It had been a little more than four months since completing my second space shuttle mission, STS-59, on the shuttle Endeavour.

I was finishing my annual flight physical at the Johnson Space Center Flight Medicine Clinic.  The words from the flight surgeon were as expected: I was in great condition with nothing of note.  Then I asked the doctor to look at my right shoulder because my racketball game was suffering.

He asked if I had pain. I told him I wasn't in pain, but my right arm did not swing naturally when I walked. This comment must have set off some alarm because he observed my walk down the hall and quickly said he would take me downtown to the Texas Medical Center the next day.
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Study: Tai chi improves balance in Parkinson's patients
February 8th, 2012
05:01 PM ET

Study: Tai chi improves balance in Parkinson's patients

Researchers and aficionados of the ancient Chinese art of tai chi are already aware of how this moving meditation can help reduce stress and improve balance.  Now a new study finds that the gentle flowing motions of this so-called "soft martial art" can help improve balance problems commonly suffered by Parkinson's patients.  The study finds that bi-weekly tai chi training improved balance and reduced falls among a group of patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease.

“While medication can relieve some, but not all Parkinson's symptoms such as tremors, rigidity and slowness,” explained lead author Fuzhong Li of the Oregon Research Institute, “Tai chi helped patients improve their posture and balance.”  The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday.

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Common chemical linked to Parkinson's
November 14th, 2011
06:45 PM ET

Common chemical linked to Parkinson's

Exposure to a man-made chemical known as trichloroethylene, or TCE, is associated with a sixfold increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to a new study published Monday in the Annals of Neurology. TCE is a common organic contaminant that pollutes groundwater, soil, and air.

The study also found that exposure to another man-made chemical similar to TCE, known as perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene, or PERC, is associated with a tenfold increased risk of Parkinson's. Both chemicals are found in metal degreasers, metal cleaners, paint, spot removers, and carpet-cleaning fluids.

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October 4th, 2010
05:20 PM ET

Clues found to early Parkinson's deaths

A study published Monday found that  Parkinson’s disease patients who scored worst on movement tests and those suffering from dementia or psychotic episodes such as hallucinations all faced a higher risk of dying earlier from the disease.

Tremors by themselves were not a risk factor, and neither anti-psychotic nor anti-Parkinson’s drug treatments affected survival, research published in the current issue of the  journal Neurology concluded.

The 12-year Norwegian study looked at 230 Parkinson’s patients, 211 of whom had died by the end of the research.

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September 30th, 2010
09:31 AM ET

Living with early onset Parkinson’s

Five to 10 percent of the estimated 50,000 Americans who get a new Parkinson’s diagnosis each year are under the age of 50. It’s called “early onset Parkinson’s."

Two people suffering from “early onset Parkinson’s" shared their stories with CNN Radio’s Jim Roope.

Mike Weinman's condition was diagnosed when he was 36 years old. He’s been living with this progressive disease for 10 years. “Do I think I got screwed? Yeah, bottom line,” said Weinman. “But you have to look at what you have instead of what you don’t.”

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September 29th, 2010
04:54 PM ET

Michael J. Fox on Parkinson's and life

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

When I went to Michael J. Fox’s neighborhood this morning, I had no idea what time we would start our interview. “He has to time his medications,” I was told. “When his medications kick in, he will be ready.” As far as I could tell, Fox’s medications kicked in right away, and for the next 90 minutes, we talked about everything.

Fox spoke about the hard shoes he has to wear first thing in the morning, because his feet and legs are so stiff. He humorously added that he just puts his toothbrush in his mouth, and lets the movement of his head do the rest of the work. As a neurosurgeon, it was fascinating to hear Michael describe his own brain surgery with such great clarity and his fears about doing it again. “Well, it is brain surgery…"  he said with flourish.

There is a lot we don’t know about Parkinson’s disease. For starters, no one is sure what causes it. One’s genetics likely loads the gun, and something in the environment pulls the trigger. But what? It might surprise you to know four people on the set of Fox’s first television series, "Leo and Me," developed early onset Parkinson’s disease. A statistical anomaly, or a clue? Michael, and his foundation’s scientists aren’t sure. Michael pauses when I ask him about it, he shrugs his shoulders and says, “I am not as concerned about a few people. I am focused on everyone who has the disease.”

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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