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19 February 2024

What is Parkinson’s? As Michael J Fox makes surprise Baftas appearance

19 February 2024

Michael J Fox received a standing ovation at the EE Bafta film awards as he presented the gong for best film, won by Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.

The 62-year-old activist and former actor arrived on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in London in a wheelchair. He was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s in 1991.

The Back to the Future star first noticed a tremor in his little finger before his diagnosis at the age of 29. Since then, the progressive neurological condition has severely affected his mobility and he’s suffered broken bones from numerous falls.

In a CBS Sunday Morning interview last year he said: “It sucks, having Parkinson’s … It’s getting tougher, it’s getting harder, every day you suffer but that’s the way it is.”

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s progressively damages parts of the brain over many years, leading to symptoms including involuntary shaking (tremors), stiff and inflexible muscles, and slow movement – making everyday tasks difficult and it can result in a distinctive slow, shuffling walk with very small steps, says the NHS website.

According to Parkinson’s UK  that there are more than 40 symptoms of Parkinson’s, which is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world, with around 153,000 people living with it in the UK.

It says people who have the condition don’t have enough of the ‘feel-good hormone’ dopamine in their brain. Dopamine aids communication between nerve cells in the brain and body, and is reduced in people with Parkinson’s because some of the nerve cells that make it have stopped working.

The charity say it’s not yet known exactly why people get the condition, although research suggests a combination of age, genetic, and environmental factors lead to the dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain to die.

As well as problems with movement and experiencing tremors, the NHS says Parkinson’s can also cause balance problems which may increase the chances of falling, as Fox has repeatedly experienced, depression and anxiety, loss of the sense of smell, insomnia, and memory problems.

Is there a cure?

Although Fox ws diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the very young age, most people with the condition start to develop symptoms when they’re over 50, according to the NHS. Men are slightly more likely to get the disease than women.

Fox founded the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2000, and his website says it has raised more than $1.75 billion dollars and moved the field closer to a cure.

But there’s currently no cure for the illness, although supportive treatments like physiotherapy and occupational therapy, plus medication, and in some cases, brain surgery, are available to help reduce the main symptoms and maintain quality of life for as long as possible.

Fox told CBS: “All these subtle ways that get you, you don’t die from Parkinson’s, you die with (the condition). I’m not going to be 80. I won’t be 80.”

Parkinson’s UK stresses that anyone concerned that they, or someone they know, may have Parkinson’s should talk to their GP.

It doesn’t mean that you or they necessarily have the condition, but a GP can refer you to a specialist if needed.

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