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James Parkinson

James Parkinson
16/10/2017

Surgeon James Parkinson was a pioneer in the field of medicine – in particular, his famous document, ‘An Essay on the Shaking Palsy’ in 1817 led to the recognition of Parkinson’s as a specific medical condition.

James Parkinson

In celebration of his birth and ground-breaking medical research, Parkinson’s Awareness Week is held annually every April – 11th April is World Parkinson’s Day.

After studying at the London Hospital Medical College, James went on to qualify as a surgeon in 1784, at the age of 29. Following his father’s death later that year, James took over his practice at 1 Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, where a commemorative blue plaque can now be found to mark the importance of the site’s history.

As a strong supporter of the vast numbers of people who were living in poverty, he became a lifelong activist for parliamentary reform, joining several political organisations. In line with his beliefs on social reform, he was also a strong advocate for improving the health of all sectors of the population, no matter what their social station, writing several medical papers promoting his beliefs. He also pushed for legal protection for mentally ill people and their families.

His studies progressed to research into people who had a medical condition that caused tremors – later to become known as Parkinson’s in honour of his pioneering research. His famous research document, ‘An Essay on the Shaking Palsy’, reported on three of his patients and three other people whom he observed in the street.

He referred to their symptoms and the condition as ‘paralysis agitans’ or ‘shaking palsy’, distinguishing between the tremors when resting and those that occurred with motion. Around 60 years later, French neurologist Pierre Marie Charcott first used the term Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson described symptoms of ‘involuntary tremulous motion’ and ‘lessened muscular power’, while the ‘senses and intellects’ were not affected. He noted how the symptoms were usually slight and almost imperceptible at first, so that few patients could pinpoint exactly when they began.

Parkinson’s paper also noted that the disease was of a long duration, so it was necessary to continually monitor the symptoms from the onset through to its latter stages, for a period of several years. He suggested that these observations might lead to a cure or at least relief of the symptoms if the condition was recognised before it had become long-established.

Today, 200 years after its publication, Parkinson’s essay remains a classic description of the disease. Parkinson died on 21st December 1824 following a stroke. His life was commemorated with a stone tablet at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.

For more information follow this link: James Parkinson

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