In the years to follow his retirement, Parkinson’s disease began to take away Ali’s motor skills and his ability to speak coherently, but he never strayed from the spotlight.
“Even though Muhammad has Parkinson’s and his speech isn’t what it used to be, he can speak to people with his eyes. He can speak to people with his heart, and they connect with him,” wife Lonnie Ali said.
Ten weeks before Ali’s match in 1980 against Larry Holmes, a team of doctors at the Mayo Clinic submitted a medical report to the Nevada State Athletic Commission describing a small hole in his brain’s outer layer and noting that the boxer reported a tingling sensation in his hands and slurred speech. He retired permanently in 1981.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a “progressive disorder of the nervous system,” according to the Mayo Clinic,that primarily affects a patient’s movement. It often starts with a small tremor in the hand or muscle stiffness and gets worse over time. There is no test for Parkinson’s, so it is occasionally misdiagnosed.
Parkinson’s patients often have trouble walking and talking. Symptoms include slowness of movement, a loss of balance and slurred speech. With Parkinson’s disease, “you may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk,” the Mayo Clinic says. The symptoms are often worse on one side of the body.
Whom does it affect?
Approximately 1 million people have Parkinson’s disease in the United States, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Men are more likely to get it than women, and it usually affects people over 50.
What causes Parkinson’s disease?
Your body uses a chemical called dopamine to control movement, according to the National Institutes of Health. Dopamine is produced by neurons in the brain, which begin to die with Parkinson’s disease. With fewer live cells, a dopamine deficit occurs, causing movement issues.
Scientists don’t know what exactly causes these cells to start to deteriorate but believe it’s a combination of genes and environmental causes. About 15% to 25% of Parkinson’s patients have a family member with the disease, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation says.
In some cases, researchers have identified a single gene mutation that’s passed from generation to generation, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Mutations in the LRRK2 gene are the greatest genetic contributor to Parkinson’s disease discovered to date,” the site states. But in most cases, the cause is probably a combination of gene mutations.
Can you treat it?
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, according to the National Institutes of Health, but doctors can help patients cope with symptoms.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved deep brain stimulation, which is also used to treat depression, to reduce symptoms in Parkinson’s patients. Electrodes are implanted into the brain and connected to a small device that emits programmed pulses to help control movement.
A recent study done at Harvard University found that patients with Parkinson’s improved after researchers transplanted tissue from fetal dopamine cells into their brains. Patients with severe symptoms experienced 50% fewer symptoms in the years after surgery. People who had been taking medication to control their Parkinson’s but found that the medicine no longer worked also saw significant improvements after surgery.