Civil Rights activist Jesse Jackson announced that he has Parkinson’s disease (PD). The outspoken founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and 2-time candidate for United States President has been receiving outpatient care for his symptoms for 2 years, since 2015.1 About three years ago, Jackson and his family noticed that he was having trouble getting around and experiencing difficulty in accomplishing routine tasks.2
Jackson said “a Parkinson’s diagnosis is not a stop sign but rather a signal that I must make lifestyle changes and dedicate myself to physical therapy in hopes of slowing the disease’s progression.” 2
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative condition. Often referred to as a movement disorder is affects both motor and non-motor functions. Neurons in the brain that produce dopamine begin to slow down or die. This lack of dopamine can cause tremors, rigidity, and problems with balance and walking. Treatment for PD generally begins with dopaminergic, or dopamine replacement, medications. Each person experiences Parkinson’s differently.
Jackson’s public statement about making lifestyle changes is something the PD community knows a lot about. The first phase after PD diagnosis is the adjustment to accepting that you have a chronic condition that will be with you for the rest of your life. Then, after that point, you may need to think about telling family and friends, work colleagues, and others as need arises.
Jackson coming forward will bring new attention to Parkinson’s disease. Like Michael J. Fox, those in the public eye have the ability to help bring awareness. Reverend Jackson said, “This diagnosis is personal but it is more than that. It is an opportunity for me to use my voice to help in finding a cure for a disease that afflicts 7 to 10 million worldwide. Some 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s every year.”
Early warning signs – What to look for
Jackson said, “My family and I began to notice changes about 3 years ago.” The onset of symptoms can be slow and not always easy to recognize. Here are some of the early warning signs of Parkinson’s:3
• Small handwriting
• Soft voice
• Facial masking
• Difficulty sleeping
• Difficulty walking
• Tremor when still
• Slowness of movement
If you notice changes in more than one of the above areas, it makes sense to schedule an appointment with your physician. There is no single diagnostic test for PD and having just one of the symptoms above does not mean you have Parkinson’s. But being aware of what to look for can help lead to early diagnosis and treatment. Primary physicians are often the first to diagnose Parkinson’s. Referrals to specialists like neurologists and movement disorder specialists may be recommended after an initial diagnosis.
Jesse Jackson said Parkinson’s disease “bested my father.” His biological father, Noah Robinson, died at age 88 from complications of Parkinson’s and a heart attack.4 Approximately 15 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease have a family history. What genetic changes take place to cause or increase the risk for developing Parkinson’s is not definitively known.5 Scientists believe Parkinson’s is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
Prognosis after diagnosis
Jesse Jackson may become a champion for people with Parkinson’s but his path will be much like everyone else with PD. His condition will progress, he will experience new and changing symptoms and he will continue to seek medical treatment. Parkinson’s disease does not discriminate.
The Parkinson’s Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research among others, continue to fund research in order to exploring ways to identify biomarkers for PD that can lead to earlier diagnosis and more tailored treatments to slow down the disease process, as well as to find a cure.