Beginning about 8-10 years ago, Dad seemed tired and maybe a little drunk in the evenings. This wasn’t a big deal to Mom and I because dad did drink in the evenings. He didn’t drink much and it was never an amount of alcohol that concerned a doctor (yes, Dad told his doctors EVERYTHING). Dad had also gained some weight and was taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Dad ate mostly whole foods, cooked at home 95% of the time (he and mom are damn good cooks), ran, traveled, and lived a relatively active life.
About a year ago, Dad ended up getting a cervical spinal fusion at the age of 67. It wasoutpatient and he recovered quickly. During this time, Mom had started training at the local gym, lost weight, and was finally doing something Dad and I had wanted her to do for years–SHE WAS RUNNING!! Once Dad was cleared to workout, he joined Mom at the gym. Not long after joining the gym, they participated in the Cristelli Fit Challenge. As part of this 30-day fitness challenge, Mom and Dad ate extremely clean. This also meant NO ALCOHOL. But Dad’s speech was still slightly slurred. We were now noticing a tremor in his right thumb. The trouble swallowing from the spinal fusion, which should have went away months ago, was still present and he was having an issue of “too much saliva”. He was also more fit than I had witnessed in my lifetime. Doctors said none of this was related to the spinal fusion. What was the deal???????
My interest in Parkinson’s Disease (PD)–in addition to dementia and Alzheimer’s–was peaked at the Oklahoma Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (CoBRE) in Structural Biology’s First Annual Structural Biology Symposium. At this symposium 3 years ago, Dr. Gregory Petsko presented an excellent, albeit sobering overview of the positive correlation between increased human longevity and higher incidence of neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Petsko also presented a small portion of he and Dr. Dagmar Ringe’s work toward addressing these expensive (financially and emotionally) diseases using chaperones to help the body’s neurological machine function as it should and/or did prior to disease. (I’m not going to geek out on you in this blog, but this is incredible research!)
My lab position keeps me busy reading articles for my own research, but I did occasionally find the time to read about PD. Eventually, the time line between my interest in PD and Dad’s symptoms collided. The more I read, the more I realized that Dad may have PD. It was either PD or parkinsonism. I hoped for the latter, but in the recesses of my brain I knew Dad did not drink enough to elicit parkinsonism, especially since his symptoms stayed around during a month without alcohol.
Dad and I are so similar that we often butt heads. When something may be “wrong”things can get even more strained. Dad did not want to believe that he had a neurodegenerative disease anymore than I did. So we fought about it as only a loving father and seemingly know-it-all daughter can. But, I’ve learned Dad does hear me and I do not need to yell. He went to a specialist and he was “diagnosed” with PD. The blog posts that follow this one will discuss what Dad has been doing to stay active, healthy, and off of the standard PD drugs, aside from being a super hero of course.