What I Wish I'd Known About a Parkinson's Diagnosis: Educator Rasheda Ali-Walsh

The daughter of Muhammad Ali talks about the importance of discovering Parkinson's early.

Getting diagnosed with Parkinson's disease is not easy for anyone. But not getting diagnosed with it promptly can be worse. Rasheda Ali-Walsh's father, Muhammad Ali, is the most famous international public figure with Parkinson's and, along with Michael J. Fox, an ardent Parkinson's activist. But because the disease can be tricky to diagnose, Ali-Walsh says doctors missed it in the champion boxer for years, even when he showed signs of Parkinson's. She remembers noticing, as a child, a slight trembling in his hands and a change in his speech a few years before his diagnosis.

"At first my father didn't think it was anything, because when you're a boxer, things happen in the ring and eventually go away," recalls Ali-Walsh. "But he had tremors that didn't go away. He went to several doctors who diagnosed him with other things -- a lot of people thought he couldn't have Parkinson's because he was very young. Then a friend recommended that he go to a movement disorder specialist in New York, Dr. Stanley Fahn, and he officially diagnosed it as Parkinson's."

This was in the '80s, when not as much was known about Parkinson's, Ali-Walsh points out. Yet a similar experience happened recently to a friend of hers in Las Vegas. "He went to his general practitioner because he had symptoms of Parkinson's. But he was on medication for something unrelated, and his doctor said he didn't have it. He said my friend was shaking because of the side effects of the medication."

Ali-Walsh -- who is a Parkinson's educator and the author of I'll Hold Your Hand So You Won't Fall: A Child's Guide to Parkinson's Disease -- knew better. "When I first met him, I knew immediately that he had Parkinson's, but there are a lot of doctors who are still misdiagnosing it," she says.

Today, Ali-Walsh is a strong advocate for early testing. Why? "There are certain medications, such as Azilect, that have been shown to slow the progression," she says. "Azilect is one of the few treatment options for all stages of Parkinson's disease. We are still trying to find ways to stop the progression through stem cell research, but if we can detect the loss of dopamine in the brain earlier, it's so much easier to slow its progression."

Read the full interview with Rasheda Ali-Walsh.

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