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Muhammad Ali and His Battle with Parkinson’s

By Dian Brannen, 9:00 am on

It wasn’t long after he retired from boxing in 1981 that Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Ali’s personal struggle with the progressive neurological disorder has put a face and name to a condition that became his toughest opponent. To mark his passing, Home Care Assistance of the Lehigh Valley highlights Ali’s courageous decades-long battle with the disease.

Spotting Early Signs of PD

The heavyweight champion first displayed signs of Parkinson’s a few years before being diagnosed in 1984 at the age of 42. While scientists are researching ways to detect Parkinson’s earlier, including the possible use of a blood test, it’s not until symptoms become noticeable that a diagnosis is made. Early signs of PD exhibited by Ali included:

• Small shuffling steps
• Isolated tremors or shaking
• Slurred speech

Treating Parkinson’s Symptoms

There is no cure for PD, although symptoms such as visible shaking are often treated with a combination of medication and physical therapy. In some cases, the benefits of the synthetic dopamine used to control tremors may diminish or create new symptoms, as was evident when Ali exhibited slow movements while lighting the Olympic flame. Treatment for PD may involve:

• COMT inhibitors to prolong symptom relief
• Dopamine agonists that mimic the behavior of dopamine
• Regular exercise and muscle strengthening
• Deep brain stimulation

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

It’s possible that Ali’s 30-year boxing career may have contributed to his condition. Testing showed slight shrinkage of his brain, although there are other factors that may contribute to Parkinson’s, including:

• Deterioration of neurons
• A reduction in the chemical messenger dopamine
• Oxidative stress
• Uncharged molecules (free radicals)
• Genetic abnormalities

Throughout his years battling Parkinson’s, Muhammad Ali worked to promote awareness of a condition that affects about a million Americans and raise funds to support research efforts. The Olympic gold medal winner died of septic shock at the age of 74.

Learn more about how seniors with Parkinson’s can maintain a high quality of living in the comfort of home by reaching out to Home Care Assistance at 484-350-3874. Our trusted Parkinson’s care in the Lehigh Valley ensures seniors with PD have the help and support needed to safely age in place with dignity and independence. Call today. We are here to help.