Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurological disorder that affects movement and speech. The disease is caused by the death of brain cells that contain dopamine, a neurotransmitter necessary for communication within the brain.
Signs of Parkinson’s often begin with a small tremor in the hand and muscle stiffness and progresses to difficulty balancing, walking and coordinating movement. Usually, symptoms are worse on one side of the body. Patients can also experience depression, sleep problems, anxiety, fatigue and constipation.
“My family and I began to notice changes about three years ago,” Jackson wrote in a statement. “After a battery of tests, my physicians identified the issue as Parkinson’s disease, a disease that bested my father.”
Jackson, 76, added that, “recognition of the effects of this disease on me has been painful.”
The two-time Democratic presidential candidate also said he sees his diagnosis as “a signal that I must make lifestyle changes and dedicate myself to physical therapy in hopes of slowing the disease’s progression.”
The native of Greenville South Carolina was involved in civil rights demonstrations with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and he was with Dr. King when he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. In 2000, Rev. Jackson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton for his role in successfully negotiating for the release of three US soldiers who had been held in Yugoslavia.
Moe recently, Jackson spoke out in 2014 about the shooting death of 18-year-old Ferguson, Missouri, resident Michael Brown, which sparked protests and a national debate about race and police.
About one million people have Parkinson’s disease in the US, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Men are more likely to get it than women, and it usually affects people over age 50. The foundation says about 15% to 25% of Parkinson’s patients have a family member with the disease. A variety of genes — more than 20 — either cause or contribute to the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
The research article, “Racial differences in the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease,” showed that African-Americans were half as likely to be diagnosed with PD as whites. Analysis of this research, however, revealed “geographic and financial barriers to access to healthcare among African-Americans may lead to undetected PD among this underserved minority.”
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, and until a cure or effective treatments are found, exercise is beneficial to Parkinson’s patients. A number of studies have shown that aerobics and strength training can improve depression, slow the progress of motor symptoms and help patients think.
“I am far from alone,” Jackson said in his statement.
“I want to thank my family and friends who continue to care for me and support me,” he concluded. “I will need your prayers and graceful understanding as I undertake this new challenge.”