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‘Get Moving!’ Exercise Can Relieve Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease

By Howard Cohen, Miami Herald (TNS)

MIAMI — Claire Hackett, a retired dietician, never saw herself as a “jock.”

But at 77, the Palmetto Bay, Fla., mother of seven is enrolled in a twice-weekly indoor cycling class at the UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center west of downtown Miami. She walks the treadmill and takes yoga classes at the Y and takes chair yoga and music therapy classes at her local park.

She’s got a new bag, too. A punching bag. “I’ve also taken up boxing,” Hackett said.

The origin of all this activity can be traced back seven years, when Hackett was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that affects about 1.5 million Americans, according to the National Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Parkinson’s, for which there currently is no cure, is characterized by the loss of dopamine neurons in the brain stem.

As Parkinson’s progresses, motor and non-motor skills may decline, leading to rigidity and gait disorders, tremor and cognitive loss. High-profile patients like former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno, singer Linda Ronstadt, actor Michael J. Fox, boxing champ Muhammad Ali and former Major League catcher Ben Petrick, who was diagnosed at 22, have put a face to the disease and promoted awareness.

Experts suggest Hackett is on to something with her burst of activity. Some recent studies, including by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, published in 2008, found that patients with Parkinson’s showed a 35-percent decrease in symptoms after participating in a cycling program. A study in 2012, by researchers at Kent State University’s department of exercise science, also found that exercise and movement therapies benefited patients with Parkinson’s, but there remains little consensus on the optimal mode or intensity of exercise.

“All of this information that is coming in dovetails with what we, the establishment, are promoting with physical therapy or exercise as part of our daily recommendations to our patients,” said Dr. Carlos Singer, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

“Exercise is the hot topic in neurology and the neurology of Parkinson’s disease,” Singer said. “There is evidence coming in that it makes a difference in slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s, and it’s good physically and for cognitive ability — the ability to think clearly and for better memory.”

The doctor’s advice? Get moving.

“Exercise seems to release one of our natural proteins, which is called the growth factor, and the growth factor has an influence on making our brain neurons — the nerve cells — more fortified, with more vigorous connections. That’s one of the theories on why exercise may be working,” Singer said.

Given the medical community’s enthusiasm over the results so far, the National Parkinson’s Foundation partnered with UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center to create a Cycle for Parkinson’s class at the Miami medical venue. The program is free for patients and (space permitting) for their caregivers, funded by a $22,000 grant. Classes are 60 minutes apiece, twice weekly.

The class is held on stationary bikes. Unlike the Cleveland study, which used tandem bikes in which a patient and a captain are paired on a bike, with the captain generally setting the pace, UHealth’s Cycle for Parkinson’s class offers individual bikes, much like those found in a traditional gym’s class. Patients, guided by trainers, can proceed at their own pace or take a break.

Cycle for Parkinson’s launched with a three-month pilot program in January for about 15 patients and a handful of their caregivers.

The goal, said Brittany Dixson, the Wellness Center’s health fitness specialist: “Improve the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s. We saw improvements. These participants did pre- and post-testing, and they felt better, there were aerobic capacity improvements, some strength improvements. A lot of time with Parkinson’s, they feel alone or isolated, and a group setting gives an aspect of social benefits.”

Hackett, the Palmetto Bay mom, was one of the participants in the 10-week pilot and enrolled in the current program, which began in late June.

“Since I’ve had Parkinson’s, the exercise has helped my symptoms,” Hackett said. “I’m stronger, I have more energy. I’d have difficulties walking with Parkinson’s and fatigue, but the exercise definitely helps that.”

These days her husband, Bob, who does not have Parkinson’s, joins Hackett for classes. Her family is impressed with her exercise routine and the results, she said.

“They think it’s great, they really do. I never thought I’d be doing that. I do enjoy it. I can’t say it’s easy; it’s challenging.”

Photo: Angela Alvarado, a health coach instructor, right, helps Patricia Henning during a cycling class for individuals with Parkinson’s on Thursday, August 13, 2015. Studies say exercise proves beneficial to Parkinson’s patients. (Peter Andrew Bosch/Miami Herald/TNS)

Bob Hoskins, Actor Known As ‘The Cockney Cagney,’ Dies At 71

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Bob Hoskins, a British actor whose powerful screen presence earned him a reputation as “the Cockney Cagney” and who, at 5 feet 6 and with a face he likened to a squashed cabbage, gave the short, bald men of the world a reason to swagger, has died. He was 71.

Hoskins, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012, died Tuesday of pneumonia in a hospital, his family said in a statement released by London publicist Clair Dobbs.

The actor was best known for playing tough guys, often with a vein of tenderness threading beneath their violent surface.

At the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, he was named best actor for his work in “Mona Lisa,” the story of an ex-con chauffeuring an elegant prostitute around London. He also received an Academy Award nomination for the part.

In Hollywood, he dipped into lighter fare, most famously playing hardboiled private eye Eddie Valiant in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” The 1988 film, which blended live action and animation, features Valiant (a softie at heart) investigating murders involving cartoon characters and a gang of weasels. He also played the pirate Smee in Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” (1991) and a handyman who was Cher’s love interest in “Mermaids” (1990).

But his bread and butter were powerful men who made their own rules: Nikita Khrushchev, Benito Mussolini, Manuel Noriega. In “Nixon” (1995), he persuaded director Oliver Stone to let him play FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in a pink tutu.

Hoskins roamed into more ethereal roles as well. In 2005, he recalled recently playing a pope in a production on Italian TV.

“Being good was murder,” he said. “Everything, eventually, has to come from you. I had to find some little grain of goodness, which I strangled to death.”

In a statement Wednesday, actress Helen Mirren recalled her co-star in “The Long Good Friday” and other films for “that inimitable energy that seemed like a spectacular firework rocket just as it takes off.”

While he never had any formal training, Hoskins was part of “that admirable postwar lineage of charismatic British actors, from Richard Burton forward,” Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin wrote in 1986.

Like his good friend Michael Caine, Hoskins could play Americans “with lethal linguistic accuracy,” Champlin wrote, “even though his native conversational tongue is Cockney at its most aitchlessly pure.”

Wherever his acting took him, Hoskins reveled in his working-class roots.

“There was a time when people said, ‘You’ve got to speak like you don’t, walk like you don’t, be like you aren’t,” he told The New York Times in 1982. “I said, ‘Ere, ‘ang on, who am I? I’d be lost if I did that. I’d be disappearing. I’d be ectoplasm!”

Born Oct. 26, 1942, in the English village of Bury St. Edmunds, Robert William Hoskins was the only child of a bookkeeper and a nursery school teacher. At 15, he dropped out of school and took odd jobs — including, he said, fire-eating at a circus. He also took accounting classes and when he got word of qualifying for a credential, his heart sank.

“I was halfway toward being what I hated,” he once told an interviewer.

After more wandering — he did brief stints as a plumber’s mate on a Norwegian ship and as a kibbutznik in Israel — he wound up back in London, accompanying a pal to a theater where he had a job painting scenery.

As Hoskins explained many times, he was drinking at the theater bar when someone called him upstairs for an audition and plunked a script in his hands. Without even intending to, he got a part in a 1968 amateur production called “Featherpluckers.”

Working in local and regional theater, Hoskins drew national attention with his role as an amoral and imaginative sheet-music salesman in the 1978 BBC miniseries “Pennies From Heaven.”

Two years later, his first major film — “The Long Good Friday” — became an instant gangster classic, telling the story of a London underworld figure who hung reluctant informants on the tips of meat hooks.

Conveying a menacing kind of charm, Hoskins won acclaim as the evil Iago in a 1981 BBC production of “Othello.” He became known for his sociopaths: “Hoskins is to the flick knife and the knuckle duster what Noel Coward is to the dressing gown,” a critic wrote.

But Hoskins was always self-deprecating.

At London’s Royal National Theater, he was a smash as gambler Nathan Detroit in the musical “Guys and Dolls.”

But Laurence Olivier, the esteemed actor, had been the producer’s first choice for the role and had to turn it down because he was ill.

“How’s that for something totally lunatic?” Hoskins once asked a reporter. “Me replacing Olivier?”

Such joking hid Hoskins’ intensity. After his first marriage collapsed, he lived in his Jeep for a while and had what he described as a nervous breakdown. After performing in “Roger Rabbit,” he went through a tortured time when he’d see weasels popping out of walls.

A friend persuaded him to stage a one-man show as therapy.

“She told me that if I was having a breakdown, I could have it on her stage,” he later recalled. “Afterward, she brought me a bottle of champagne and said, ‘Welcome back to sanity, kid.””

Hoskins brought that same intensity to preparing for his roles.

In “Mona Lisa,” he cast around for a way to research George, the freshly-out-of-jail criminal who took a fall for another mobster and falls in love with the call girl he chauffeurs.

He finally hit upon taking his daughter to the bird house at a zoo.

“We’d look at birds in their cages,” he said. “And George became like that, a man with this incredible spirit trapped inside him by his own naivete, by his own expectations, by the society around them. There he was, inside his own cage.”

In his later years, Hoskins kept at it. His wife, Linda, would sometimes have to reassure him that they weren’t broke. The only other financial advice he took was from his old pal Michael Caine, who he said told him “never to buy an effing boat.”

Meanwhile, he was fueled by the zeal for performance he described to The New York Times in 1982.

“When I see some old guy acting his socks off, I’m proud to be in the same profession,” he said. “When it’s really flying up there, really cracking between you, it’s the most thrilling relationship in the world.”

Hoskins’ last role was as a dwarf in “Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012).

He announced his retirement because of Parkinson’s disease the same year.

His survivors include his wife, Linda Hoskins; sons Alex and Jack; and daughters Sarah and Rosa.

Denis Paul via Flickr

Researchers Aim To Build Database Of Brain Health

By Lisa M. Krieger, San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Quick: Find the fruit! Feed the fish! List a sequence of steps, in reverse!

Your online test results aren’t pass-fail. You aren’t graded. But your scores give valuable snapshots of your mental flexibility and memory, contributing to what researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, hope will someday be a vast archive of information about brain health — and the first neuroscience project to use the Internet on such a scale to advance research.

By volunteering — repeatedly over time — participants join a pool of research subjects in the new Brain Health Registry, opened Tuesday, for studies on brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other neurological ailments.

You won’t learn your own scores; that disclosure could influence your future performance or trigger unwarranted “freak outs,” said UCSF’s Dr. Michael Weiner, founder of the registry and lead investigator of the Alzheimer’s disease Neuroimaging Initiative, the world’s largest observational study of the disease.

Rather, you will help speed up research by helping cut the time and cost of conducting clinical trials.

“To accelerate research, studies have to be done more quickly, and efficiently,” said Weiner.

One-third of the cost of running trial studies is patient recruitment — and many trials fail, or are delayed, due to problems getting enough of the right volunteers.

The traditional approach to finding participants is low-tech, such as posting notices on bulletin boards or buying ads in newspapers. And it’s time-consuming to determine if someone is even eligible to volunteer, then document that person’s family and personal medical history. Think clipboards, and pens and paper.

Frustrated by how much effort would be required to launch a giant San Francisco Bay Area-based study in Alzheimer’s prevention, “a light bulb went off in my mind,” said Weiner.

“Why not use the Internet as a way to enroll in trials,” he said, “where volunteers take a few minutes to take some online neuropsychological test to measure brain performance?”

Hundreds of other researchers could share this pooled and updated database of patient information — with participants’ identities removed — saving the time and expense of new recruitment with every new clinical trial.

“The large pool of data gathered by this registry can help the broader brain research community,” said Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s paving the way or better treatment options for others,” she said.

The initial focus will be on the San Francisco Bay Area, and the goal is to recruit 100,000 people by the end of 2017. Nearly 2,000 people have already signed up during the registry’s test phase.

Volunteer Jackie Boberg of Saratoga, Calif., called the fast-paced tests “a little nerve-racking,” but enjoyed the challenge.

“I want to help any scientific efforts,” said Boberg, 62, an artist recently retired from high-tech sales and marketing at Adobe Systems Inc. “I am watching a lot of my friends help with their parents and relatives who are suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and see the toll it is takes the entire family. I feel like it is just the tip of the iceberg, as aging Baby Boomers come along.”

She cares less about her personal results than broader population-based findings.

“It is not about me. It is more about being able to contribute,” she said. “Anything I can do to help with science moving forward.”

Volunteers provide a brief personal overview — such as family history of dementia and health status — and take online neuropsychological tests designed by companies Lumosity and Cogstate to evaluate memory, attention and response times.

Later tests will reveal information about how volunteers’ brains are changing as they age.

“We’re seeking people with all kinds of problems — or are completely normal — to build this database,” said Weiner.

“It will open up the research world,” he said.

AFP Photo