Jesse Jackson's Parkinson's diagnosis sheds light on disease

Neurosurgeon says symptoms can appear gradually

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When Rev. Jesse Jackson revealed he has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, it started a national conversation about how to spot and treat the ailment.

Dr. Stephen Scibelli, a neurosurgeon at Memorial Hospital, told News4jax there are several symptoms that serve as warning signs.

He said decreased expression, slower movements or trouble initiating movement can be signs. It can also affect one's speech and swallowing and cause one to hunch over. Ultimately, it can lead to dementia. 

"His (Jackson's) family may have started noting a tremo. That's often an early sign," Scibelli said.

Jackson has talked about starting physical therapy to treat his Parkinson's.

"In truth, aerobic physical therapy is one of the best things one can do to prevent the progression of this disease," Scibelli said.

There are also several medications that have helped stave off the illness.

"Unfortunately, the disease continues to progress, so as it progresses these drugs tend to have less effect on the patient," he said.

A last resort for treatment is a surgery known as deep brain stimulation.

"We try to save it for people who have reached the limits of what they can tolerate with the medication," he said.

Surgeons make a small incision in the skull and thread electrodes to specific areas of the brain that have to do with movement. The patient is often awake for the surgery.

"So you can literally watch as their tremors disappear," Scibelli said.

Most patients diagnosed with the disease are older. Jackson is 76.

"Older patients tend to progress to the dementia earlier than younger patients and obviously, that is one of the most debilitating parts of the disease," Scibelli said.



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