What is Parkinson's and how will it affect Kirk Gibson's day-to-day life?

World Series veteran and Fox Sports Detroit analyst Kirk Gibson released a statement this week revealing that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.He also announced that he would “…meet this challenge with the same determination and unwavering intensity that I have displayed in all of my endeavors in life,” and made it clear that he intends to stay involved in baseball.  MORE: Josh Hamilton and addiction in baseball | Common baseball injuries explained What is Parkinson’s Disease?Parkinson’s has become much more familiar since actor Michael J. Fox went public with his diagnosis in 1998 and has progressed through the stages of the disease very much in the public eye.Parkinson’s is a progressive degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. It's the result of the death of the cells in the brain that produce dopamine – a neurotransmitter that most people likely think of as a reward chemical (released in response to sex, drugs and food, among other things). Dopamine also has a huge role in initiating movement, which is why people with Parkinson’s eventually develop a characteristic slow, shuffling gait.Because of dopamine’s wide role within the nervous system, Parkinson’s can have a range of other symptoms. In addition to shuffling gait, general slowing and tremor, depression is common, there can be problems with balance, loss of the sense of smell and dementia can develop later in the disease.Parkinson’s is most commonly diagnosed in middle age, but it’s also a disease of exceptions – Michael J Fox was only 30 when he was diagnosed, and Gibson is 57. Not everyone develops the same symptoms. Not everyone progresses at the same rate, and not everyone responds equally to treatment.How do you treat it?The same things that are good for life in general are good for Parkinson’s. Exercise, stress reduction, and staying involved in daily activities can somewhat mitigate symptoms. Medications are still the mainstay of Parkinson’s treatment, working either by supplementing dopamine, mimicking it, or preventing it from breaking down. The problem is that no therapy can slow the disease, and eventually drugs become ineffective. Another problem is that the drugs used to treat Parkinson’s can cause intolerable side effects in some people, including involuntary muscle movements and spasms. Deep brain stimulation surgery can be an option in people who can’t tolerate medication side effects, or for whom medication just isn’t working. Electrodes are buried deep in the brain, and stimulation to those

areas can reduce symptoms and allow medication to work at lower doses (which reduces their side effects).Deep brain stimulator electrodes demonstrate how they got that name. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)Can you get Parkinson’s from pro sports?In a word, yes. Any repeated trauma to the head can cause a constellation of horrifying symptoms, among them Parkinsonism. The cells that produce dopamine are fragile, and repetitive head trauma can damage them. While the damage to these cells is generally idiopathic (meaning there’s no clear reason or cause), it has also been linked to head trauma, cigarette smoking, and certain chemicals. The outcome is the same regardless of the cause.Ali was diagnosed in 1984 after years of boxing and blows to the head. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)What’s next for Kirk Gibson? It’s impossible to speculate on how Gibson will progress. Ali was diagnosed in 1984, and up until a few years ago was still making rare public appearances. Michael J. Fox was diagnosed in 1991 and is still acting. Most people start medications once their symptoms become bothersome or noticeable to others. There may be a period of adjustment while dosing and side effects are figured out, but often people are able to return to their usual activities. The upshot is that Gibson may be behind the desk at FS Detroit soon and will hopefully be able to stay there for a long time.Michael J. Fox has dedicated his efforts to fundraising for Parkinson’s research, and April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. His foundation’s promise:The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson's today.Jo Innes is a real-life doctor and contributor for Sporting News. Follow her on Twitter @JoNana