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Inside Muhammad Ali’s Fight with Parkinson’s

By Cherie Coe, 9:00 am on

For legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali, the fight of his life started a few years after he retired from the ring. In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a condition that would present a series of personal challenges. Even so, the Olympic medal winner remained determined throughout his 30-year battle with PD.

Misinterpreting Symptoms

Ali’s occasional shaking, shuffling gait, and speech difficulties were first thought to be related to a past viral infection or heavy-metal toxicity. Early signs of Parkinson’s are sometimes misinterpreted or linked with an unrelated condition, although some have speculated that blows sustained during Ali’s boxing career partially contributed to his PD.

Medication Side Effects

The slowed movements Ali displayed while lighting the Olympic flame were related to his medication, not his PD. Yet commonly prescribed drugs like levodopa (L-Dopa), dopamine agonists, and anticholinergics are ultimately beneficial for many Parkinson’s patients. L-dopa is now combined with carbidopa to prevent additional side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

Finding Effective Treatments

Ali primarily managed his condition with medication, although physical therapy can also help improve balance and coordination in the early and middle stages of Parkinson’s disease. Involving the insertion of electrodes into a specific area of the brain, deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical option designed for use during the early stages of the condition. Many seniors with Parkinson’s also find help from an at-home caregiver makes managing everyday tasks easier. Some PD patients also have success with:

  • Vitamin and nutritional supplements
  • Acupuncture
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Dietary adjustments
  • Creatine, a nitrogenous organic acid often associated with muscle building that may protect nerve cells in the brain

Ali was an active supporter of Parkinson’s research. While there’s still no cure for the progressive condition, scientists have been looking at ways to block the production of certain proteins linked to PD and are working to develop a blood test that may result in earlier detection. As always, researchers are also constantly striving to improve the effectiveness of existing treatments.

If your loved one has Parkinson’s, find out how home care in Jefferson County can help him or her maintain a safe, high-quality life in the comfort of home. Give us a call today at (303) 987-5992 and speak with a trusted Care Manager who can answer questions, discuss care options, and schedule a free in-home consultation.