• If you search for images of Parkinson’s disease, you’ll probably see something like this:

  • (Public Domain Tag:  PD-1923)

  • It was drawn in 1886 by Sir Richard Gowers to represent the characteristics of a person with Parkinson's. This image and many just like it have become our perception of PD. So what is this picture trying to tell us? And, more importantly, what is it leaving out?

    Sir Richard’s picture points out the 4 “Cardinal Signs” of Parkinson’s:

    1. Tremor
    2. Rigidity (muscle stiffness due to PD)
    3. Bradykinesia (speed/amplitude dysregulation of movements)
    4. Postural instability (reduction or loss of postural reflexes)

    It also demonstrates the symptoms of poor posture and reduced facial expression (masking).

    But above all, this picture seems to say to it’s viewer: “All people with Parkinson’s look like this.” It is, after all, the quintessential image of PD.

    It’s unfortunate that renditions of this image have come to represent people with Parkinson's - Caucasian, male, elderly, stooped, unable to function well - because Parkinson’s does not discriminate. You can be a 35 year old Asian woman who runs marathons and is living with Parkinson’s. You can be a 75 year old of Persian descent living with Parkinson’s who plays golf every weekend and walks 5 miles per day without shuffling. You can be a 50 year old parent of 3 living with Parkinson’s who can’t eat soup for lunch because of your tremors. You can be a full time office manager living with Parkinson’s who still finds time and energy to play with the grand kids on the weekends. You can be anyone, anytime, anywhere.

    The thing is, everyone’s PD is different. Parkinson’s disease is complex and affects many areas of the nervous system, not just the Substantia Nigra. Every person with Parkinson’s is unique and deserves to be treated that way by their health professionals and the community.

    The good news - there are some much needed steps being taken to change the world’s perception of Parkinson’s. For example, Anders M. Leines has created an exhibit called This Is Parkinson’s to tackle this issue. Check out this awesome video that summarizes the concept of his exhibit:

  • Bottom line, we need to stop looking at the disease in the person and start seeing the person living with the disease. Let’s stop making assumptions about living with Parkinson’s and instead start asking the individual what living with Parkinson’s really means.

    All the best,