The Downside of Silence After a Parkinson's Diagnosis

The Downside of Silence After a Parkinson's Diagnosis

We learned yesterday that Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease when he died.  This information has led to much speculation about whether his diagnosis or depression associated with the disease itself contributed to his suicide.  We will likely never know if there was a link, but the proximity of events does raise the question as to whether newly diagnosed patients, their family and friends know enough about living with PD to quell their worst fears.

Often PD is referred to in the press as a “devastating, debilitating illness” which, as a PD patient, I’ve always found annoying.  It gives the impression to newly diagnosed patients that they’re about to embark on a horrible, consistent downhill journey on route to death.  And that’s simply not the case.

CNN reported that Williams' concern about being unable to exercise and cycle with PD, two means of coping with depression, made him extremely upset.

Actually, exercise is an important means of reducing the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including cycling.  Not knowing this and other important information about advances in PD research and treatments perpetuates erroneous and potentially harmful myths about the disease.

There’s an embarrassment factor to PD, which partially explains why many patients choose to keep a new diagnosis close to the vest.  Soon enough, they reason, people will notice tremors, slowness, rigidity, facial masking, and other signs and so they buy some time with silence.

Additionally, things once done easily can become difficult – even participating in conversations or being quick-witted on social occasions.  Again, pulling in can occur. For someone whose career calls for quick thinking, the cognitive slowing experienced by many patients, even early on in the disease, can be upsetting.

While totally understandable, the downside of self-imposed silence is that helpful, accurate information isn’t obtained from experts and others with PD when it might do the most good – early on in the disease.  Outmoded perceptions of the disease are accepted as reality.  Fear of symptoms, being a burden, upsetting children, and being unable to do things that have defined you for years naturally occurs. 

The truth is that many symptoms can be managed and even diminished by exercise, speech therapy, creative activities, enjoyment, social support, and an excellent medical care. 

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is not a walk in the park.  It is also a different experience for each patient.  The more people with PD talk to each other and their physicians, the more we all learn and share, the less likely we are to create or foster fear where optimism rightly belongs.

photo:  Featureflash/

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

What is the rarest blood type?

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
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China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession

The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.

  • How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
  • One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
  • Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.

Sex & Relationships

There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.