3 Myths About Parkinson's Disease

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One of the highest-achieving athletes of the 20th century is boxing champion Muhammad Ali, but to Maryum Ali, he's just dad.

As she has watched her father become one of the most famous faces of Parkinson's disease since his diagnosis nearly 30 years ago, she has learned much about the realities of Parkinson's, said Maryum. who is known to her family as May May.

Currently, about 1 million people in the U.S. have Parkinson's, which results from a loss of the brain cells that produce the chemical dopamine. The condition causes tremors, rigid muscles and impaired balance.

In the early days of her father's diagnosis, information about the condition was scarce. "Even doctors didn’t understand it," she told MyHealthNewsDaily.

But still today, myths about Parkinson's persist.

"People think that it's a disease of older people," she said. While it's true that the majority of people with Parkinson's develop the condition around the age of 60, it is increasingly being diagnosed in younger people, she said.

About 10 percent of people with Parkinson's are diagnosed before age 40, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.

Another myth, Ali said, is that there is not much that can be done to help a person with Parkinson's. "There's this, 'it is what it is' mindset out there," she said.

People should know that there are effective ways to deal with the symptoms of Parkinson's, she said. Exercise enormously helped her father, she said.

In fact, a study published this month in the journal Geriatrics and Gerontology International found that of Parkinson's patients who participated in weekly, one-hour exercise sessions reported improvements in their daily activities compared with a control group who didn’t exercise.

Brain stimulation treatments also help, Ali said. It's important to find a specialist who is familiar with all available options, she said. "You can do lots of different things; it's not like there's no hope."

A third myth about the condition is that it's highly genetic, Ali said. "Lots of people think this, but only 5 percent of people who get it have a genetic tie," she said.

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes Parkinson's disease. While genetics play a role, most researchers believe that chemicals in the environment increase a person's risk of the condition, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Viruses and inflammation in the body have also been linked with the condition, the NIH says.

Pass it on: Parkinson's disease can strike younger people, but for all patients, exercise and other treatment may help with symptoms.

Follow Karen Rowan @karenjrowan. Follow MyHealthNewsDaily @MyHealth_MHND, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on MyHealthNewsDaily.

Karen Rowan
Health Editor
Karen came to LiveScience in 2010, after writing for Discover and Popular Mechanics magazines, and working as a correspondent for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. She holds an M.S. degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University, as well as an M.S. in cellular biology from Northeastern Illinois University. Prior to becoming a journalist, Karen taught science at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in Lincolnshire, Ill. for eight years.