Dr Judith Harvey: The shaking palsy

7th November 2022 by Dr Judith Harvey

Dr Judith Harvey: The shaking palsy

We doctors are trained to spot symptoms and inevitably we take our experience into our private life. A neurologist watching a live broadcast by BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones emailed the BBC asking them to pass on his advice that Cellan-Jones see a specialist about his shaking hand. Jeremy Paxman was walking his dog when he collapsed. The doctor who saw him in A&E had watched University Challenge and noticed that Paxman’s face was becoming less expressive. He told him “I think you’ve got Parkinson’s”.

It’s the movement disorders that attract attention. After all, James Parkinson called it the shaking palsy. And it’s the tremor that I remember from my medical student days. I didn’t hear much about the non-motor manifestations and I suspect that as a GP I didn’t think to enquire. The movement disorders are emphasised in GP Notebook but the many other problems that PD can cause – and which may be the dominant manifestations – are tucked away in a short paragraph. People with PD have contributed articles and videos for the Parkinson’s UK website. Very useful for the interested public, but only GPs with a special interest are going to spend time going through them. So, what’s it really like to live with Parkinson’s?

It’s well-known people like Connolly, Paxman and Michael J Fox, who are prepared to go public and tell us. Fox is now 61. Much of his acting career postdates his diagnosis at the age of 29 and his four children have never known him without Parkinson’s. In his book ‘No Time like the Future’, subtitled ‘An Optimist Considers Mortality’, he reflects on his life with Parkinson’s. His stories are amusing, insightful, informative and thought-provoking. I recommend anyone, doctor or not, to read it.

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