Though African Americans are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than other races, they do have greater disability and disease severity, and are less likely to be prescribed medication.
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Muhammad Ali is perhaps the most high-profile person to battle the condition, which could have been caused from repeated blows to the head. But it doesn’t require a boxing career or other forms of head trauma to develop the disease.
Studies show that African Americans may be more likely to be undiagnosed. Cultural and educational differences may prevent patients from seeking appropriate care, particularly at early stages, when symptoms are not yet disabling. One study showed that African Americans more than Whites may see parkinsonian symptoms as an inevitable part of aging and dementia more as a natural result of living a difficult life.
Parkinson’s disease creeps up slowly, starting with mild symptoms that are easy to ignore at first. Here’s what doctors look for:
1. Slow movement and clumsiness. If it takes longer than usual to button a shirt, make a phone call, or do any task that requires hand coordination — and there’s no other obvious explanation for it – it could be an early sign of Parkinson’s. This slowness of movement is known as bradykinesia. As the disease progresses, Parkinson’s disease patients may find themselves momentarily “freezing” like a statue while walking or turning, unable to take the next step.
2. Hand and leg shaking. About 70 to 80 percent of Parkinson’s disease patients have a “resting tremor” in the hands, arms, legs, jaw, or face. The shakiness occurs when, say, the patient rests her hand relaxed in her lap, as opposed to when moving to pour a cup of tea. The trembling could make it look as if she’s rolling a pill between her thumb and forefinger.