University Challenge: Jeremy Paxman refuses to read rules
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Determined not to let his disease affect his career, Jeremy Paxman, 71, is aiming to continue working on the BBC quiz show alongside his Parkinson’s diagnosis. When symptoms first started to appear Paxman was in denial, blaming other things for his recurring falls. He revealed that initially he was mistaken about the first symptoms and warning signs of the condition. So what should you be on the lookout for?
Talking to the Sunday Times Magazine, the host said that he only knew something was wrong when he “went down, straight on my face, it was a real mess – black eyes, aciclovir fiale torrinomedica cuts and blood everywhere.”
Before this, any time he fell over or hurt himself he would blame his dog Derek for getting under his feet.
However, after a trip to his GP, the presenter was given his devastating diagnosis. He admitted: “The doctor said, ‘You’ve got Parkinson’s.’ It had never occurred to me. I thought, ‘Parkinson’s what?'”
After receiving the news and recognising his mild symptoms more and more, Paxman found the news harder to take. He said: “It’s very hard to know you’re not going to get better.”
The diagnosis was made even harder for Paxman as he was unaware of the symptoms. He continued to say that he thought trembling hands were always the first sign.
But living with the disease he realises that the condition is much more unpredictable. The former Newsnight titan said: “It’s the unpredictability that gets me. Sometimes you feel awake, sometimes you feel asleep, and how you are today is no guide to how you will be tomorrow. It’s really annoying. I find myself very tired a lot of the time. Parkinson’s is incurable, so you’re stuck with it. And that is hard.”
While involuntary tremors are the symptoms most people associate the condition with, it also manifests itself through slow movement and stiff and inflexible muscles, according to the NHS.
Shan Nicholas, the interim chief executive of Parkinson’s UK, said: “Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world, and Jeremy choosing to speak publicly about his diagnosis will do so much to raise awareness of this much misunderstood condition.
“With more than 40 symptoms, Parkinson’s is unpredictable and complex. We are glad that he has been receiving the right treatment to manage his symptoms.”
The Mayo Clinic provides an extensive list detailing the symptoms that individuals should be aware of as they could point to Parkinson’s.
- Tremor – a tremor, or shaking, usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers. You may rub your thumb and forefinger back and forth, known as a pill-rolling tremor. Your hand may tremble when it’s at rest.
- Slowed movement – over time, Parkinson’s disease may slow your movement, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming. Your steps may become shorter when you walk. It may be difficult to get out of a chair. You may drag your feet as you try to walk.
- Rigid muscles – muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can be painful and limit your range of motion.
- Impaired posture and balance – your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems as a result of Parkinson’s disease.
- Loss of automatic movements – you may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk.
- Speech changes – you may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than have the usual inflections.
- Writing changes – it may become hard to write, and your writing may appear small.
Parkinson’s UK also warns about the mental health issues that could develop alongside the disease. Anxiety, depression, dementia and hallucinations are all potential long-term conditions that can accompany Parkinson’s.
Currently, there is no cure for the condition but as Paxman revealed, he is receiving “excellent” treatment, meaning he is planning to “continue broadcasting and writing for as long as they’ll have me.”
Treatments for the condition include a number of therapies alongside medication.
Parkinson’s UK states that a physiotherapist can help with posture and movement, a speech and language therapist can help with swallowing problems and any speech or writing issues, and finally an occupational therapist can help individuals complete everyday tasks if they become difficult.
Therapists are trained to provide advice and recommend exercises and treatments to keep you active and healthy.
There are also a variety of drug treatments available to help Parkinson’s sufferers.
These drugs do one or more of the following:
- Increase the amount of dopamine in the brain
- Act as a dopamine substitute, stimulating the parts of the brain where dopamine works
- Block the action of other factors (enzymes) that break down dopamine.
However, like many drugs these also have side effects. This can include impulsive and compulsive behaviours, hallucinations and delusions, sleep issues and blood pressure changes.
If you experience any of these side effects or any others, it is important to talk to your GP who will be able to make changes to your dosage or regime that helps to alleviate these effects.
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