Inside Muhammad Ali’s Struggle with Parkinson’s

By Pete Lane, 9:00 am on

There’s no doubt Muhammad Ali, the man who once declared himself “the king of the world,” was one of the most successful and beloved boxers of all time. The agile athlete who once floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee also provided inspiration to many others who live with Parkinson’s disease, a condition the champ struggled with for the last 30 years of his life.

Early Signs and Diagnosis

Shortly after retiring from boxing in the early ’80s, Ali began to exhibit symptoms that were first thought to be related to a viral infection. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, Ali continued to show noticeable signs of the condition, including:

• A shuffling or slow gait
• Some difficulty with speech
• Visible shaking limited to one limb

Treatment of Symptoms

Ali’s Parkinson’s symptoms were treated with medications, including L-dopa (levodopa), an amino acid and hormone commonly prescribed for PD patients that increases dopamine levels. Parkinson’s depletes levels of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter that helps brain cells communicate. Motor symptoms of PD like those Ali displayed during public appearances may be treated with:

• Physical and exercise therapy
• Dopamine agonists
• Deep brain stimulation
• Acupuncture and other alternative therapies

Later Stages of Parkinson’s

Quality of life declines as Parkinson’s advances, often necessitating the help of a Parkinson’s caregiver. It becomes increasingly difficult to speak and motor abilities are increasingly diminished. Ali had reached a point where he was primarily confined to a wheelchair and was reportedly unable to speak. Advanced symptoms can also include:

• Frequent infections
• Memory problems
• Increased difficulty sleeping
• Incontinence issues

Recent advances in the fight against Parkinson’s include the development of a new drug called kinetin that reduces the effects of PD on brain cells. Australian researchers have developed a blood test that may detect an abnormal metabolism in people with the condition so treatment can begin sooner.

Being the primary caregiver for a loved one with Parkinson’s can be challenging, and in the later stages of the disease, family members are not always able to provide the level of care necessary. To find the help you and your loved one both need and deserve, call Centennial Home Care Assistance at 303.957.3100 and speak with a friendly Care Manager and schedule a free in-home consultation.