ACTOR Aidan Turner has not yet turned 40, yet in his latest TV drama The Suspect he plays a psychologist coming to terms with Parkinson’s disease.
His character, Dr Joseph O’Loughlin, is a graphic illustration of how the disease can affect young as well as old, with around one in every 20 people diagnosed under the age of 40.
The actor Michael J. Fox was just 30 when he was diagnosed in 1991.
It’s the fastest-growing neurological condition in the Western world, and two people are diagnosed every hour in the UK.
Now one in 500 Brits are affected and men are more likely to be diagnosed than women.
There is no cure but with advances in treatments — including medication, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, and brain surgery, most people now have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
Aidan spent months researching for his role as Dr O’Loughlin and trying to master the subtle tremor that is typical of the disease.
But Dr Simon Stott, director of research at the charity Cure Parkinson’s, told Sun on Sunday Health: “Usually people will have the classic tremor, but not everyone does.
“There are huge variations within the Parkinson’s community.
“The speed at which it develops can differ too — some very quickly, while others may not suffer severe symptoms for decades.”
Parkinson’s is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the brain.
This then leads to a reduction in dopamine, a neurotransmitter which is vital for regulating body movement.
Dr Stott said: “It is usually characterised by three motor impairments — slowness of movement, fragility of movement and the resting tremor.
“Other symptoms include loss of sense of smell, gastrointestinal issues, sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression and apathy.
“In advanced cases, it can make simple activities such as eating, getting dressed or using something like a phone or computer very difficult.”
Over the next few years we will see if we can slow down the condition
What causes the loss of nerve cells is unclear but most experts believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors including diet and exercise.
Research has shown that eating wholegrains, vegetables, fruits and protein-rich foods may slow advancement of the condition.
Nuts, olive oil, fish and eggs may also be beneficial.
But as in the case of Aidan’s character, the disease does not spare the young.
Dr Stott said: “They often feel stigmatised and discriminated against because of ignorance around the condition.
“People see a younger person struggling to walk down the street and their first thought is that this person is drunk.
“Raising awareness is key, so shows like The Suspect are a great way of highlighting how it can affect people.”
And there is a lot of hope in medical circles that a cure may soon be found.
Treatments are improving rapidly and experts believe they are on track to finding a way to slow the progression of the disease or stop it altogether.
Dr Stott said: “For the past ten years Cure Parkinson’s, together with other organisations, have been developing new treatments based on genetic factors and the biology around the condition.
“Now is a really exciting time for researchers because we are beginning to clinically test drugs that have been developed.
“Over the next few years we will see whether our theories have been correct and if we can indeed slow down the course of the condition.”
- The Suspect continues on ITV tomorrow at 9pm
Rick’s like Dr.Joseph
RICK LAY, 41, from Reading, who works in marketing was diagnosed with Parkinson’s aged 46. The married dad of one says…
My story is very similar to Aidan’s character. Three years ago, aged 43, I started struggling to walk properly.
I assumed it was a problem with my leg and saw a physio but nothing really helped.
I felt anxious for no reason and had insomnia. This went on for three years.
I also used to trip on the pavement, seemingly over nothing.
One day I went to London with my family and couldn’t walk a mile, my leg was so rigid.
I struggled to keep up with my child Ella, now 13.
It was the catalyst to see my GP. He asked me why I was shaking, and referred me to a neurologist.
I was 46 when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. It was tough.
I only knew what most know – that it makes you shake, that Muhammad Ali had it, and that Michael J. Fox does too.
Happily, drugs made a big difference, quite quickly. Without them, I’d struggle to walk down the road.
With them, I climbed Snowdonia. But after a while, they work less and the symptoms become more problematic.
I worry if I will be able to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding and give a speech.
If anyone gets a diagnosis of Parkinson’s I’d encourage them to find a group of people in a similar situation.