The death last week of boxer Patrick Day, four days after he was stretchered out of the ring in a coma, is the latest reminder of how vulnerable sportsmen and women are to traumatic brain injury. During the latest Ashes series the Australian batsman Steve Smith was temporarily retired for one test after being struck on the helmet by a bouncer. The current World Cup Rugby has been affected too, with Welsh fly half Dan Biggar withdrawn from a game against Uruguay having received head injuries in two previous matches.
In this edition of Discovery, Roland Pease talks to engineers at Imperial College and Loughborough University using the latest techniques to understand the dynamics of blows to the head, and to improve helmet protection. And to experts and Rugby players at Swansea University seeking to make precision measurements of real-life head movements with the help of gum shields stuffed with electronics.
Picture credit: Mazdak Ghajari
Early diagnosis and research
James Parkinson described a condition known as the “shaking palsy” over 200 years ago. Today there are many things that scientists still don’t understand explaining why diagnosis, halting the progression or finding a cure for Parkinson’s can seem elusive. But how close are researchers to developing better treatments?
Better understanding seems to suggest that Parkinson’s is not one condition but several, with different causes and symptoms in different people. Many researchers think that early diagnosis and greater recognition of the non motor symptoms such as loss of smell, sleep disorders and depression is to be encouraged, while others say without effective treatments then there are ethical issues to consider.
Jane visits a brain bank and sees the changes in a Parkinson’s brain that causes many of the symptoms and she takes a test which examines the sense of smell. Could this be a new tool to identify early stages of the condition?
Plus repurposing of existing drugs, i.e. drugs that have been developed for one condition but being tested in another are having promising results in Parkinson’s and genetic studies are leading to a greater understanding of the mechanisms involved in PD which in turn is leading to new therapies.
(Photo: Man smelling hops in his hands. Credit: Ales-A/Getty Images)
Can exercise help people living with Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative condition, with symptoms such as loss of balance, difficulty walking and stiffness in the arms and legs.
Jane Hill travels to the Netherlands to meet Mariëtte Robijn and Wim Rozenberg, coaches at Rock Steady Boxing Het Gooi and co-founders of ParkinsonSport.nl, a unique sports club ran 100% by and for people with Parkinson’s. It doesn’t take long before a transformation begins to take place in the gym.
Boxing is popular in the US as well, says Professor Lisa Shulman, Director of the Parkinson’s Centre at the University of Maryland. She has been encouraging her patients to exercise for the last 25 years.
Results from over 200 studies suggest that exercise is a good way to empower people as well as having physical benefits such as delaying disability.
In Ghana many people receive a late diagnosis. Sheila Klufio a physiotherapist at Korle Bu Hospital in Accra works with people to help them deal with some of the more common symptoms such as freezing when walking so they feel more confident to go out.
And it seems all types of exercise can help, Alan Alda and Michael J Fox both box, ballet dancing is popular, walking, cycling and Tai Chi have benefits and it’s never too late to start.
Picture credit: Wim Rozenberg at Wimages.nl
Living with Parkinson's
BBC newsreader Jane Hill knows all about Parkinson’s. Her father was diagnosed in t1980s and lived with the condition for ten years — her uncle had it, too. She’s spoken about the dreadful experience of watching helplessly as the two men were engulfed by the degenerative disease, losing their independence and the ability to do the things that they once enjoyed. “I remember feeling how cruel Parkinson’s is.
The number of people living with Parkinson’s disease is set to double over the next few decades as we all live longer; it is the only long-term neurological condition that is increasing globally.
In this series Jane Hill looks at what it means to be given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s and the reality of living with the condition. She and her cousin Steve remember how their fathers adopted a British stiff upper lip at a time when there was little awareness. In contrast she meets highly successful comedy writer Paul Mayhew Archer, whose reaction to his diagnosis was to create a one-man show exploring the lighter side of living with Parkinson’s.
Actors Michael J Fox and Alan Alda both discuss the early symptoms of the disease and their diagnosis.
Most people are diagnosed in their sixties but Dutch blogger Mariette Robijn talks about accepting a life changing diagnosis in her forties.
Picture: Dopaminergic neuron, 3D illustration. Degeneration of this brain cells is responsible for development of Parkinson's disease, Credit: Dr Microbe
Presenter: Jane Hill
Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald
Preventing pesticide poisoning
Thanks to a ban on several hazardous pesticides Sri Lanka has seen a massive reduction in deaths from pesticide poisoning, and the World Health Organisation is recommending other countries should follow this example.
As Health Correspondent Matthew Hill discovers, hospitals which used to deal with many pesticide related deaths are now seeing fewer cases, and more survivors. However, a lack of mental health services means, for many in rural communities, taking pesticides is still a way of drawing attention to a variety of personal issues - sometimes with tragic consequences.
Image: Rural pesticide shop, Sri Lanka (Credit: BBC)