It Hasnt Stopped My Life At All: Alan Alda Reveals He Has Parkinsons Disease
Actor Alan Alda, known for his roles on M.A.S.H., The West Wing and The Aviator, announced on Tuesday that he has Parkinsons disease.
Speaking on CBS This Morning, Alda said he has had a full life since he received the diagnosis 3½ years ago.
Ive acted. Ive given talks. I help at the Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook. I started this new podcast. And I noticed that I had been on television a lot in the last couple of weeks talking about the new podcast, and I could see my thumb twitch in some shots, said Alda, 82. I thought, its probably only a matter of time before somebody does a story about this from a sad point of view, but thats not where I am.
Parkinsons disease is a nervous system disorder affecting movement, though symptoms are mild in the early stages. Although there is no cure, there are medications and other options that can help patients with symptoms.
There is no specific test for Parkinsons, which is diagnosed by doctors taking into account ones medical history, conducting a neurological and medical exam, and reviewing ones symptoms. There is a scan that can help support a doctors diagnosis.
Alda explained that he had read an article about a study showing that acting out ones dreams could be a very early indicator of Parkinsons, when no other symptoms show. So he asked doctors for a scan because I thought I might have it.
What Are Some Treatments
Although the disease is incurable, people can live for decades and effectively manage symptoms with drug treatments, according to doctors who treat the disease.
There are a range of drugs, medical devices and other treatments such as exercise used to treat the disease. A commonly prescribed drug is levodopa, which helps synthesize dopamine in the brain. It is often paired with another drug, carbidopa, to reduce nausea.
Another class of drug, known as dopamine agonists, mimics the effects of dopamine rather than replacing the drug in the brain, according to Mayo Clinic.
Drugs can effectively control movement for Parkinson’s patients for years, and the bigger challenge is often taking care of nonmovement issues such as depression or sleep disruption, said Michael Okun, a University of Florida neurologist.
“The nonmotor features of Parkinson’s disease are much more disabling than the motor features,” said Okun, who also serves as medical director of Parkinson’s Foundation, an advocacy group. “With treatments, patients with Parkinson’s disease can do very well and live good, meaningful and happy lives.”
M*a*s*h Actor Alan Alda Shares His Secret To Living Well With Parkinsons Disease
What was said: Actor Alan Alda opened up about living with Parkinsons disease in a new interview with AARP. In addition to detailing his journey with polio as a child, Alda explained how acting out his dreams helped him realize he had Parkinsons and how hes coping with the diagnosis by staying active.
A lot of people hear they have Parkinsons and get depressed and panicky and dont do anything, just hoping itll go away. Its not going to, but you can hold off the worst symptoms. Alan Alda
The backstory: Alda initially revealed he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease in 2018. He revealed the news during a CBS This Morning interview, sharing that initially the diagnosis was difficult to cope with. But, over time, he moved to a place of acceptance and continues to live a full life.
I take boxing lessons 3 days a week, play singles tennis twice a week, and take a mild pill all Dr. recommended. I even juggle a little. And Im not entering dementia. Im no more demented than I was before. Maybe I should rephrase that. Really, Im good.
The frontlines: Parkinsons disease is a progressive condition caused by a loss of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for movement, among other functions, in your nervous system.
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Alda Went To A Doctor After He Acted Out One Of His Dreams In His Sleep
Six years ago, when Alda was 79, he read a New York Times article by personal health columnist that explained that acting out dreams can be an early sign of Parkinson’s, a disease of the progressive nervous system that causes damage in the brain and impacts movement. It struck a chord with Alda, who remembered recently doing so.
“I had dreamed somebody was attacking me, and in the dream I threw a sack of potatoes at him,”he told AARP in May 2020. “In reality, I threw a pillow at my wife.” This encouraged Alda to go to a neurologist for a brain scan and to not take no for an answer.
” examined me and said, ‘I don’t think you need a scan. You don’t have any symptoms,'” Alda explained to AARP. “I said, ‘Well, I’d really like the scan anyway.’ And he called me back and said, ‘Boy, you really got it.'”
REM sleep behavior disorder, which is the tendency to act out dreams while asleep, is one pre-diagnostic symptom of Parkinson’s. Melissa J. Nirenberg, MD, PhD, Parkinson’s specialist at New York University Medical Center told the NYT that “up to 80 percent of people with the sleep disorder get Parkinson’s or a similar neurodegenerative disease.” The Parkinson’s Foundation notes that trouble sleeping is a common symptom of Parkinson’s, along with tremors, difficulty walking, changes in handwriting, and loss of smell.
Other Early Signs Of Parkinson’s
Finding better ways to detect Parkinson’s in its earliest stages is the subject of continuing research.
A 2015 study published in The Lancet analyzed data on more than 54,000 British men and women and identified a number of symptoms that were more likely to appear in people who were later diagnosed with Parkinson’s. These included tremor, trouble with balance, constipation, erectile and urinary dysfunction, low blood pressure, dizziness, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
Losing the sense of smell is another early indicator that a person may develop the disease, Henchcliffe said.
“Obviously, these are not highly specific, meaning there are many other possible reasons for having these symptoms,” she said.
Still, if you are concerned, talk to your doctor. “A visit to a neurologist might uncover other factors that raise the concern for Parkinson’s,” Henchcliffe said, “and although no one wants to get that news I do think it’s good to be proactive.”
Alda said one of the reasons he decided to speak out about his medical condition was to send a message of hope to others who might be facing the disease. The 82-year-old is still extremely active, taking boxing lessons three times a week, and he recently launched a podcast called Clear+Vivid which explores all the ways people communicate with each other.
“In the very beginning, to be immobilized by fear and think the worst thing has happened to you it hasn’t happened to you. You still have things you can do,” he said.
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Michael J Fox: Parkinsons Champion For A Cure
Michael J. Fox is among the most well-known people living with Parkinsons disease. Many remember him as the fresh-faced young star of the 1980s TV comedy hit Family Ties and the popular Back to the Future movies. Though most people with Parkinsons are diagnosed between ages 40 and 60, Fox was diagnosed at age 30 but his diagnosis didnt slow him down.
He shared his young-onset Parkinsons disease diagnosis with the world in 1998 and, two years later, founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinsons Research. Fox is committed to helping the foundation build Parkinsons disease awareness and raise funds for research into prevention, treatment, and a cure. In addition to his advocacy work, hes still a working actor some more recent roles have included characters with Parkinsons in the TV shows The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
As long as I play a guy with Parkinsons, I can do anything, he joked in a 2013 AARP interview.
He Has Said That He Lives A Full Life With His Disease
When Alda publicly announced that he had Parkinson’s on CBS This Morning in July 2018, he said that he didn’t experience any other symptoms until a few months after his diagnosis. When promoting his podcast, Clear + Vivid, he began to notice a frequent twitch in his thumb, which encouraged him to speak out about his medical condition.
“I thought, ‘It’s probably only a matter of time before somebody does a story about this from a sad turn point of view,’ but that’s not where I am,” he said on the morning show.
Continuing to work while managing his Parkinson’s inspired him to open up, as well. “The reason I want to talk about it in public is that I was diagnosed three and a half years ago and I’ve had a full life since then,” he added.
Along with his interview podcast, which is about connection and communication, Alda stayed busy in other ways after his diagnosis. He said on CBS This Morning that he was still giving talks at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which was established in 2009 at Stony Brook University and uses improvisational theater to help scientists, doctors, and other professionals communicate. In 2017, Alda published his third autobiography, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating. And he’s also continued acting. He played recurring roles in the shows Ray Donovan and The Good Fight and also appeared as a gentle divorce lawyer in 2019’s .
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Alan Alda Is A Survivor
At 85, Alan Alda is a survivor. He lives with his wife, Arlene, in his home in Long Island, New York. The couple has been happily married for 64 years now and apparently that late-night pillow-throwing incident hasnt put a damper on their relationship.
Last year, right around this time, Alda did an interview with AARP Magazine in which he told the outlet that he was doing just fine considering the circumstances. He spoke heavily about how and his wife were occupying their time and tending to their mental health while riding out the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He shared that he and Alrene were very happy about some of the changes that they had to go through. His wife was occupying her time looking for new opportunities to be creative by getting into things painting, drawing, cooking, and playing the piano. Alan even humorously mentioned that he never ate so well in his entire life.
But this most recent pandemic wasnt the first rough patch that the former M*A*S*H star has gone through. When he was 7, he was diagnosed with polio. He had to undergo six months of treatments that involved scalding hot blankets being wrapped around his limbs every hour.
While Alda admitted that his experience was really hard on him at the time, he acknowledged that it was probably much harder on his parents who couldnt afford a nurse and had to perform the torturous procedures themselves.
M*a*s*h Star Didnt Reveal Diagnosis Publicly Until 2018
It was during a CBS This Morning appearance in 2018 that the M*A*S*H star told the world about his diagnosis.
Fox, who starred in shows like Family Ties and Spin City, created The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinsons Research in light of his own journey with the disease. He was diagnosed with Parkinsons in 1991 and remains, at 60 years old, a staunch advocate for researching its causes and conditions.
M*A*S*H remains one of the biggest highlights in Aldas long, successful career. He would act, write, and produce numerous episodes throughout the shows 11-season run on CBS. Alda amassed 21 Emmy nominations for the show, winning five times.
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Updating Approaches To Parkinsons
We know from the scientific literature that patients who see even a general neurologist have lower rates of morbidity, mortality and nursing home placement. But given that the majority of Parkinsons patients are under the care of general practitioners, internists and family medicine doctors, how do we help all of those who are affected by Parkinsons?
Based on studies that show that people are living longer with Parkinsons, one of the first messages we need to impart is that life is most certainly not over. A second important message is that new medications can and do make a difference.
These findings underscore the necessity of having doctors trained in Parkinsons.
For example, there is a myth that when you diagnose Parkinsons, you prescribe a medicine called carbidopa-levodopa three times a day, and thats all.
But Parkinsons is an incredibly complex disease with more than 20 motor and nonmotor features. The idea that dopamine, the main active ingredient in carbidopa-levodopa, is the only drug and the only treatment and theres nothing more you can do thats a myth. This is something we must make sure to emphasize and educate doctors in training and those seeing these patients in practice.
Living With Parkinson’s Disease
In addition to drugs and deep-brain stimulation, doctors and therapists recommend a range of strategies to live fully with the movement disorder.
Patients often receive speech and occupational therapy to learn how to adapt to everyday tasks such as dressing, eating and bathing. Okun said his Florida clinic will borrow another program that involves acting techniques to train patients to project their voices or control hand movements.
Mills, of Johns Hopkins, said recent research also shows that moderate cardiovascular exercise may play a role in slowing the disease.
“Often the symptoms can be managed effectively,” Mills said. “There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the ability of current therapies to control the disease.”
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Alan Alda Reveals He Has Parkinson’s Disease: I’m Not Angry
Alan Alda has Parkinson’s disease. In an appearance on “CBS This Morning” Tuesday, the award-winning actor, best known for his relatable portrayal of Army Capt. “Hawkeye” Pierce in the TV series “M*A*S*H,” revealed he was diagnosed three-and-a-half years ago.
“I’ve had a full life since then,” he said. “I’ve acted, I’ve given talks, I help at the Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook. I started this new podcast. And I noticed that I had been on television a lot in the last couple of weeks talking about the new podcast and I could see my thumb twitch in some shots and I thought, it’s probably only a matter of time before somebody does a story about this from a sad point of view, but that’s not where I am.”
Alda said he got tested for the disease after reading an article about how one of the early signs of Parkinson’s is acting out dreams.
“I was having a dream that someone was attacking me and I threw a sack of potatoes at them. But what I was really doing was throwing a pillow at my wife,” he said.
The 82-year-old recently launched a podcast called Clear+Vivid, which explores all the ways in which people communicate with each other. The ability to engage with people clearly, he says, is the key to greater understanding for everyone. Another reason Alda spoke out was to send a message of hope to those who might be facing the disease.
Sleep Disorders And Parkinson’s
Henchcliffe notes that it’s been well documented that sleep disturbances, including having problems falling asleep or staying asleep, restless legs syndrome, and other sleep disorders, are common in people with Parkinson’s. Over the years there’s been some debate over whether sleep trouble is a complication of Parkinson’s or a precursor of the disease an early warning sign that surfaces well before other symptoms set it.
“What’s really turned out to be a critical link is the recognition that certain specific sleep disorders , not only affect people with Parkinson’s but in fact show up in some cases many years earlier than the movement symptoms that lead to diagnosis,” Henchcliffe said. “So while for some types of sleep disturbances we might still debate whether they are precursors or complications, for RBD there is now extremely strong evidence that it can be a harbinger of Parkinson’s disease that will manifest some years down the line.”
REM sleep behavior disorder is characterized by people acting out their dreams, like Alda experienced. Examples of this might include dreaming that you’re fighting off an attacker and actually punching out, or dreaming that you’re hitting a ball on a tennis court and physically swinging your arm to make the stroke.
Henchcliffe emphasizes that not everyone with RBD is destined to develop Parkinson’s.
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Linda Ronstadt: Parkinson’s Took Her Voice But Not Her Spirit
Known for her rich soprano vocals as the lead singer of the 1960s band the Stone Poneys, Linda Ronstadt opened up about her Parkinson’s disease diagnosis to AARP The Magazine in 2013. After two very bad tick bites in the 1980s, Ronstadt says her health never fully recovered but she didn’t visit a neurologist until she was no longer able to sing.
“I didn’t know why I couldn’t sing all I knew was that it was muscular or mechanical. Then when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I was finally given the reason. I now understand that no one can sing with Parkinson’s disease. No matter how hard you try. And in my case, I can’t sing a note,” she told AARP.