For many people, Muhammad Ali was a champion both inside and out of the ring.
For people living with Parkinson’s Disease, they lost one of the biggest warriors for their cause when the boxing star died last week.
Ali stayed in the public eye throughout his over 30-year battle with the disease, raising awareness about the degenerative neurological disorder, as well as funds to help reduce disparities in treatment among minorities.
“I think it really was empowering for other people to see that this great champion had Parkinson’s Disease,” Nabila Dahodwala, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Pulse. “He wasn’t letting it define him, he was living with it and fighting to overcome it.”
With today’s array of treatment options, ordinary people with Parkinson’s Disease can do the same, said Dahodwala. People who receive treatment early can increase their quality of life and live longer and more independently. But the classic symptoms we associate with the disease–tremors, slow movements, speaking softly–often differ from the more subtle symptoms that can appear earlier, like constipation, depression, and even changes in how things smell. That’s one reason why more education and awareness of this treatable condition is so important.
The visibility Ali brought to his illness may have encouraged more people from minority groups to seek the benefits of early treatment, said Dahodwala. African Americans and Latinos, in particular, are diagnosed with Parkinson’s at lower rates than non-minorities, she said. While African Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they only represent 6 to 8 percent of the estimated 1 million Americans diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Symptoms also tend to be worse and harder to treat when the disease strikes African Americans, who generally start treatment later. The good news is that, with treatment, most people with Parkinson’s can expect to live very long lives.
“I often tell people that this is a chronic disease you live with, but it doesn’t define you,” said Dahodwala.
Listen to the whole interview with Nabila Dahodwala above.