Monday, September 12, 2016

Hillary's "Parkinson's Diagnosis" a Second Opinion

I wasn't going to get into the dogfight over the supposed "diagnosis" of Hillary Clinton as a sufferer of Parkinson's Disease. Why not? Because neither I nor anyone who is not a trained neurologist and hasn't performed a rigorous examination of the patient, is qualified to render a credible opinion. This didn't stop Florida anesthesiologist Ted Noel.

Dr. Noel posted a video to YouTube outlining his shoddy case for a PD diagnosis of Mrs. Clinton. This is where I got dragged into the matter. Noel quotes a post I wrote for the Northwest Parkinson's Disease Foundation as evidence for his opinion. (the quote appears at 3:22.) As noted above, I do not have the expertise to diagnose Parkinson's. But I didn't spend a quarter century newspapering without learning what bullshit looks like, and have no problem diagnosing that here.

Dr. Noel starts the video well enough, pointing out his lack of familiarity with Clinton's medical history and present condition by admitting that he is not her personal physician. Given that, he could not "claim that what I have to tell you is a conclusive diagnosis." He was right enough about that, and should have quit there. Instead he goes on to cherry-pick symptoms to make his case, contradict biology on Parkinson's side effects and speculates about what he is clearly ignorant of.

Below is a list of symptoms of Parkinson's disease. As you can see, it's quite long. There are plenty of symptoms if you want to cherry-pick among them to support your thesis. What's more, Parkinson's patients usually present some but not all of these symptoms. An example of how slippery PD is to pin down: some PD patients do not even have the hallmark symptom of tremor. Can you begin to see how complicated and difficult it is to diagnose this disease? I've read of studies that showed a third of diagnoses made by neurologists without specialized movement disorder training are mistaken.

There are no studies of how well anesthesiologists like Dr. Noel do at diagnosing PD, because it's so obviously a bad idea.

Here is the edited list of symptoms  from the Parkinson's Disease Foundation's Web site.
  • Resting Tremor: In the early stages of the disease, about 70 percent of people experience a slight tremor in the hand or foot on one side of the body, or less commonly in the jaw or face.
  • Bradykinesia:  means “slow movement.” A defining feature of Parkinson’s, bradykinesia also describes a general reduction of spontaneous movement, which can give the appearance of abnormal stillness and a decrease in facial expression. The reduction in movement and the limited range of movement caused by bradykinesia can affect a person’s speech, which may become quieter and less distinct as Parkinson’s progresses.
  • Rigidity: causes stiffness and inflexibility of the limbs, neck and trunk.
  • Postural Instability: One of the most important signs of Parkinson’s, a tendency to be unstable when standing upright.
  • Freezing: Freezing of gait is an important sign of PD that is not explained by rigidity or bradykinesia . People who experience freezing will normally hesitate before stepping forward. They feel as if their feet are glued to the floor. For reasons unknown, freezing rarely happens on stairs.
  • Micrographia: This term is the name for a shrinkage in handwriting that progresses the more a person with Parkinson’s writes. This occurs as a result of bradykinesia, which causes difficulty with repetitive actions.
  • Mask-like Expression: This term means a person’s face may appear less expressive than usual.
  • Unwanted Accelerations: Some people with Parkinson’s experience movements that are too quick. These unwanted accelerations are especially troublesome in speech and movement. People with excessively fast speech, tachyphemia, produce a rapid stammering that is hard to understand. Those who experience festination, an uncontrollable acceleration in gait, may be at increased risk for falls.

  • Other symptoms
Stooped posture, a tendency to lean forward
Impaired fine motor dexterity and motor coordination
Impaired gross motor coordination
Poverty of movement (decreased arm swing)
Akathesia: agitation
Speech problems, such as softness of voice or slurred speech caused by lack of muscle control
Difficulty swallowing
Sexual dysfunction
Drooling and excess saliva resulting from reduced swallowing movements
Sleep disturbances
Bladder problems
Sexual problems
Excessive saliva
Weight loss or gain
Vision and dental problems
Fatigue and loss of energy
Fear and anxiety
Skin problems
Cognitive issues, such as memory difficulties, slowed thinking, confusion and in some cases, dementia
Medication side effects, such as impulsive behaviors
Let's look at Dr. Noel's analysis of Clinton's symptoms. His claim that she suffers a parkinsonian head tremor is underwhelming. The tape he cites as evidence of head tremor (at 5:47 of the video) is more rationally explained as body language that says "Go on, I'm listening." It bears little resemblance to a PD tremor, it's way too slow. A pd tremor occurs at five times per second, according to Johns Hopkins Medical school.

Likewise his treatment of "freezing" episodes rings false. He focuses on an incident where Clinton trips on a staircase, (5:15 in his video) saying this is an example of a Parkinson's "brain freeze."* In fact, most of us who have PD notice stairs are mysteriously easy to climb. Before my brain surgery I often would make painfully slow progress across an open expanse of flooring, punctuated by periods during which I would come to a complete halt only to bound up the stairs when I finally reached them. As the Parkinson's Disease Foundation notes "For reasons unknown, freezing rarely happens on stairs."

You can judge for yourself  Dr. Noel's wacky analysis of Mrs. Clinton's "hand posture". (6:51) Clinton is behaving quite normally in the tape he cites as evidence of brain dysfunction. The only posturing here is Dr. Noel pretending to know what he's talking about. 

One thing that is known by everyone with PD but not Dr. Noel is that freezing and dyskinesia don't happen at the same time. You freeze when you are low on dopamine. You have dyskinesia, excessive uncontrollable motion, when you have too much dopamine on board for your brain to handle. Dr Noel explains head movements by Clinton that he finds odd (around 8:56) as dyskinesia set off by a freeze. But how can a person suffer from too much dopamine and too little at the same time?  It's never happened to me.

The nonsense flows through the rest of the tape. Dr. Noel flies by the seat of his pants through unfamiliar territory, dispensing misinformation. For instance, he says Clinton's use of the term short-circuit is odd. "The term short-circuit is not in slang usage." he claims.

Short-circuit there.

His gibberish and speculation leave no room for credibility.

One thing is clear to me after reviewing this sorry mess. I wouldn't let this guy treat my dog, let alone my Parkinson's Disease. **     

*Incidentally in 14 years with diagnosed PD, I can't remember anyone refer to freezing episodes as a "brain freeze" Everyone knows that term describes an ice cream headache.

**Further debunking of this matter can be found at this link to Snopes.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

What's Up in Anchorage in the Parkinson's Department for the Month of September

Hello friends, it's time for our monthly round-up of the panoply o' Parkinson's events plodding toward you in September, like some rough beast out of  a William Butler Yeats poem. What do the portents portend? Let's cast the Runes aloft and see...

Monday the 12th at 1:00, LIVE from SPOKANE it's the return of the Telehealth Conference! These live, interactive teleconferences about different PD topics bring in the experts to enlighten we Parkspeople about various aspects of coping and caring. The topic this month is Acupuncture and the benefits to those affected by pain and chronic conditions, as well as who acupuncture works for, and a demonstration. To find the Anchorage area venue for this live and interactive hour-long session, head to the Piper Street side of the Providence Hospital mega-plex, go to the second floor, walk down the lonnnnnnnng hall that stretches South from the cafe and look for room 2401 pretty much at the end of the hall on your right.

Also this month, the Yoga for Parkinson's group will continue to meet Tuesdays at 1:30 at The Alaska Dance theater studios, 550 E 33rd Ave, West of  the Moose's Tooth. Gentle Yoga for PD people who wish to work on their flexibility and balance, led by our very own Rocky Plotnick or our very own Susan Wong.

Then we have our usual meeting the 17th of September at 3:30 at the Anchorage Pioneer Home. I will be traveling, and so will miss it. As someone pointed out at our last meeting, this provides an excellent opportunity for everyone to get together to plot a coup and topple me from power as president-pro-temp-apparently-for-life of the support group.  If that doesn't interest you, I believe we will have a new member there who is anxious to brainstorm about ways to make sure the unique needs of Parkinson's patients can be better served in hospitals.

Finally, a question. Is anyone from the group planning to attend World Parkinson's Conference in Portland? If so, please email me.