Ben McSwinney used to have no trouble keeping up. Then at age 45, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
"I noticed my left leg was dragging a bit. It wasn't keeping up like it used to," he said. "Parkinson's is unrelenting. It's always progressing."
McSwinney was given the drug Levodopa. Considered the gold standard for treating Parkinson's disease, it replaces the dopamine the brain no longer produces. But, even Levodopa has its drawbacks.
"I take three pills a day every two hours all day long," he said.
In the body, Levodopa converts to dopamine, which reduces tremor and muscle rigidity and improves movement. The longer you take the drug, the longer it takes to work. Once it works, the supply of dopamine lasts only about an hour.
"I take my medicine. It takes an hour for it to kick in. Then, when it kicks in, it lasts an hour. Then, I'm back having to take it again, then having to wait around for it to kick in, McSwinney said. "The on-off part is probably the most aggravating of having Parkinson's."
Researchers at Duke are now testing the drug Rasagiline, which when taken with Levodopa could help eliminate the on-off ordeal.
"Rasagiline is being tested to see if it might smooth that fluctuation, so that people might spend more of that time in an on position and less in an off position," said Dr. Burton Scott, a neurologist.
McSwinney is hopeful that the study and other research will help him and others with the disease. Until that day, he will not let Parkinson's control him.
"I haven't let it stop me. I don't think that's the way it should be. You just keep going," he said.
Researchers said Resagiline could also affect the progression of the disease.
As for McSwinney, he has definitely been keeping busy. Due to his condition, he retired early, but with his business background, he is now helping raise money for Parkinson's research at Duke.
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