Parkinson’s: A Progressive, Incurable DiseaseJune 23, 2016
Muhammad Ali, who died after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease, was given the diagnosis in 1984 when he was 42. The world witnessed his gradual decline over the decades as tremors and stiffness set in, replacing his athletic stride with a shuffle, silencing his exuberant voice and freezing his face into an expressionless mask.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
It is a progressive, incurable deterioration of the part of the brain that produces a chemical needed to carry signals to the regions that control movement.
How common is Parkinson’s?
About one million people in the United States, and between seven million and 10 million worldwide, are thought to have Parkinson’s, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
What causes it? Was boxing a factor for Ali?
The exact cause is not known. As with many disorders, experts suspect a combination of genes and environment, meaning that people with a particular genetic makeup may be predisposed to the disease if they are exposed to certain environmental factors.
Head injuries, such as those sustained repeatedly in boxing, are among the possible risk factors listed by the National Parkinson Foundation. So is exposure to certain pesticides. These factors have both been suggested as possible contributors in Muhammad Ali’s case.
Can Parkinson’s disease be treated?
Medication can ease the symptoms for a time, but the disease continues to progress. In some cases, implanted devices called deep-brain stimulators can also help with symptoms. But Parkinson’s is not curable.
Is it fatal?
The disease itself is not fatal, and many people, like Ali, live with it for decades. But as it advances it commonly causes breathing problems, like the ones that led to his hospitalization a few days before he died.