You are here

Family Ties

By Karen Kier
Pharmacist on behalf of the ONU HealthWise team

The television show Family Ties was a breakout series for Michael Andrew Fox, professionally known as Michael J. Fox. He played Alex P. Keaton on the sitcom from 1982 until the finale in 1989. This series led to his success in the trilogy of Back to the Future movies. While on the Florida set of his 1991 movie Doc Hollywood, Michael J. Fox noted a slight tremor in his little finger. This was his first symptom of early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

Several years after Michael J. Fox’s diagnosis, he went public with his disease and his fight to find treatments. In 2000, he established the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.  This organization has become a global leader and innovator in finding therapies.

He has authored three books including No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality. Michael shares personal stories about his illness and his family. I was fortunate enough to see him at a conference where he was the keynote speaker. It was one of the most amazing speeches I have ever heard. He spoke for one hour without any notes and he held nothing back. 

You left the auditorium with a true sense of his optimism and hope for the future. He talked about his struggles with falling and controlling his tremors. He discusses how he and his family use humor as part of the process of dealing with his disease. I would recommend any of his books. He received an Honorary Oscar in 2022 for his advocacy and optimism.  

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month and the Parkinson’s Foundation has wonderful resources available on their website including the 10 early signs of Parkinson’s. Like Michael J. Fox, a tremor in your finger, hand, thumb, or chin is a common early signal. Another sign is if your handwriting gets smaller over time. Other symptoms can include loss of smell, trouble sleeping, difficulty moving, constipation, and dizziness.  

Two other early signs can include facial expression changes showing a constant sad or mad look as well as a stooped or hunched walking position (leaning forward). These signs and symptoms are not unique to Parkinson’s disease so it is important to talk to your primary care provider.  

One of the events planned for Parkinson’s Awareness Month is the Parkinson’s Sing-A-Long to support the international community. One of the first events will be at 3:00 p.m. EST on April 5, 2023.  There are dates available through May 17 and you can register at the American Parkinson’s Disease Association. 

You might be wondering why the foundation would do a Sing-A-Long.  Research reports 89% of people with Parkinson’s disease experience voice and speech disorders, including soft or quiet tone including monotone and breathy speech, which can be hard to hear or understand. Singing and singing exercises can help to reduce Parkinson’s symptoms related to tremors, walking and posture. Singing can help improve the strength and quality of the voice. Studies demonstrate it can reduce the risk of pneumonia. There are YouTube videos providing singing exercises including a Beatles sing-a-long.  

Parkinson’s disease occurs when an important brain chemical becomes depleted from nerve cells in the brain. This chemical is known as dopamine. Parkinson’s disease is more common in men than women and more likely to occur in those over the age of 60.  Similar to Michael J. Fox, five to ten percent of people with Parkinson’s disease develop an early onset type. Research has linked this early onset disease to an inherited form of Parkinson’s. Scientists believe Parkinson’s disease may be a combination of genetics with environmental exposures. 

Some environmental factors identified by researchers include infections, farming, pesticides, herbicides, and industrial pollution. Studies have evaluated Vietnam-ear exposure to Agent Orange used to clear vegetation. Exposure to heavy metals has been linked to Parkinson’s.  

Studies have shown a 70% higher risk of developing Parkinson’s if you have had the flu in the previous 10 years and this number goes to 90% if the flu was more than 15 years ago. Researchers believe this is related to the inflammation caused by infections. One aspect we do not know is the risk of Parkinson’s disease related to COVID-19. Interestingly, COVID-19 infections could cause loss of smell, changes in voice and brain fog.  

A recent article in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences discussed the role of vitamin D in the development of neurologic diseases including Parkinson’s. Low vitamin D levels are considered a widespread health problem and may affect over 1 billion globally.  Vitamin D helps regulate factors involved in the synthesis of brain chemicals such as dopamine. The authors provide theories for low vitamin D levels increasing the risk of developing Parkinson’s in animals. Human studies have not demonstrated a benefit in supplementing with vitamin D to improve Parkinson’s. The role of vitamin D may be prior to developing the disease.  More studies need to be done before definitive information is available. 

Parkinson’s may have family ties. Talk to your healthcare professional if you have any concerning symptoms. Talk to your pharmacist about vitamin D supplements.

ONU HealthWise is offering COVID-19 vaccines as well as flu shots Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Bivalent COVID-19 vaccines are available. Clinics are Monday-Friday from 4:00-6:00 p.m. Please call the pharmacy for information.

ONU HealthWise Pharmacy