Parkinson’s Disease posted on: 02-09-2009

Yet again, the people at PBS produce a remarkable show related to issues affecting our elderly population. Last week I watched their latest production, “My Father, My Brother and Me” which follows reporter Dave Iverson after he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He travels all over the country interviewing advocates, researchers and those diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

I was struck by a number of things:

First and foremost: Exercise! There is a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting a consistent, rigorous exercise regiment may slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, sometimes dramatically. There are a couple of studies being done (both on humans and on monkeys) to better understand the relationship between exercise and Parkinson’s but it seems pretty definitive that exercise isn’t harmful and there’s a good chance it could be quite helpful. It was also mentioned in the show that there’s evidence that exercise can help those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and depression.

The people I know who have or have had Parkinson’s have all been in their mid 70’s or older but unfortunately, the disease also strikes people who are younger: reporter Dave Iverson himself is in his late 50’s or early 60’s and afflicted with the disease, his brother who’s a professor at Arizona State Universtiy was in his late 40’s when diagnosed, Michael J. Fox has done a good job fundraising and raising awareness was diagnosed when he was 31. Author and political commentator Michael Kinsley was diagnosed in his early 40’s.

Unfortunately, although there seems to have been a lot of progress understanding the disease over the past 25 years, a cure still feels like its pretty far away. Deep brain stimulation seems to be effective to a certain extent, as does a cocktail of drugs. The lifting of the ban on embryonic stem cell research by President Obama has clearly provided researchers and patients with renewed hope and optimism in finding a cure.

While I am as hopeful as anyone about therapies developed through embryonic stem cell research, it seems like there is a tremendous amount of pressure on domestic researchers to find a cure. Embryonic stem cell research has been going on for eight years internationally, and I would love to have heard something about that, or the findings of research on adult stem cells. My one criticism of the program is that they seemed to have a political agenda when it came to embryonic stem cell research instead of sticking to facts.

Nevertheless, it’s an outstanding program that I highly recommend. It was quite informative, and offered hope on a lot of different levels for those suffering from Parkinson’s. Between “My Father, My Brother and Me”, “Caring For Your Parents”, and “Living Old” PBS and Frontline have done a tremendous job in covering elderly related issues. I very much look forward to their next effort.

The show is available on line here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/parkinsons/