Writer Michael Kinsley (Washington Post, Harper’s, New Republic and new column in Vanity Fair), does seven pages in the April 28 New Yorker on fears of loss of mental abilities due to Parkinson’s.
Kinsley, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 20 years ago at the age of 43, says a “tsunami of dementia is about to swamp us as the baby boomers age.”
He says estimates are that 14 million of the 79 million baby boomers (Americans born between 1946-64) will develop Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Those who live past 85 have a 50-50 chance of developing Alzheimer’s. Since women live longer than men, they are more likely to develop the disease.
Victims mentioned by Kinsley are actor Michael J. Fox and Pope John Paul II.
His article on dementia does not mention dieting but much the same prediction about a wave of such disorders is in Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter who wants Americans to cut down on wheat-based products and stop worrying about their cholesterol levels. He says fat is “the brain’s best friend” and urges caution about taking statins. Eggs are recommended as an excellent food.
The brain is “80% fat” he says, and needs fat in order to function properly. His 90-minute TV show has aired on more than 100 public TV stations and his book has been among the top ten best sellers in the “Miscellaneous” category for more than 20 weeks.
Operation Helped Kinsley
Kinsley describes surgery that “has been a miracle in terms of reducing the physical symptoms” of his disease.
Called “deep-brain-stimulation” surgery, it involves insertion of a pacemaker in the subject’s chest followed by wires run into the brain “to do something or other,” writes Kinsley.
It was done by Mark Mapstone, associate professor at the University of Rochester. Kinsley had gone to him 20 years earlier after his Parkinson’s was discovered.
While Parkinson’s mostly causes physical symptoms, it can also cause mental problems.
Dr. Patrick McNamara, neurologist at Boston University, told Kinsley that Parkinson’s “apparently does not prevent creative work of a very high intellectual caliber.”
McNamara told the writer that people with the disease have been described as “socially withdrawn, rigid, punctilious, serious, stoic, introverted and uninterested in others.”
Quoted is a 1999 article in the European Journal of Neurology that says Adolf Hitler had Parkinson’s. It says he exhibited “uncorrectable mental rigidity, extreme inflexibility and unsupportable pedantry.”
According to McNamara, Parkinson’s victims “have difficulty making decisions, developing plans and monitory and adjusting plans and actions.” Victims also have a tendency to avoid risks and social interaction.”
While Alzheimer’s affects memory, Parkinson’s “starts with what they call the executive function: analyzing a situation and your options and making a decision,” says the article.
Test Showed “Weak Verbal Fluency”
A test Kinsley underwent concluded he was “a highly intelligent, friendly and engaging 62-year-old man…IQ in the Very Superior Range…excellent cognitive reserve…exceptionally strong vocabulary.”
But it added that his “executive dysfunction...included poor organizational skills, weak verbal fluency, inefficient problem solving, a tendency to break task rules, and weak working memory.”
Neurologists have called Kinsley “an outlier,” meaning he is “very lucky” to be functioning the way he is.
Kinsley authored a debut column in the May Vanity Fair titled “The Front Page 2.0” in which he said the “not very good” local papers have lost their monopoly and are being supplanted by excellent national newspapers such as the New York Times and USA Today.