Parkinson’s Center joins landmark study

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Phoenix’s Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The Center is joining a landmark study led by the Michael J. Fox Foundation – and it is using a simple scratch-and-sniff test that may help scientists better understand brain disease.

This study is relevant in Arizona because Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center is recruiting people recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and people age 60 and older who do not have Parkinson’s but are living with certain risk factors.

An estimated 180,000 Arizonans are living with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation’s Prevalence Project. Director Dr. Holly Shill explains the study.

The University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test is a scratch-and-sniff test consisting of 40 questions to identify common smells. If the individual does not pass the test, they are invited to be part of the study.

When recruiting volunteers for the study, they look for people above the age of 60 who truly believe they are healthy individuals. “We like a variety of people, so we actually want people who think they have no risk factors. Nobody in their families with Parkinson’s, they don’t have any other symptoms, tremors, or what have you,” Shill said. “But then we also want thew people that maybe have a higher risk. Maybe they have an affected family member or sister of parent with Parkinson’s disease, so maybe they know there’s a gene in their family that increases the risk.”

The purpose of this study is to understand how Parkinson’s starts and how it develops over time. By learning about this, people can develop treatment to help those who are in the earliest stage without having to wait for other know symptoms to start showing up.

“I think what people don’t know or don’t realize is that Parkinson’s often starts maybe a decade or two before the tremors actually start,” Shill said. “And one of the earliest symptoms can be a loss of scentsy smell.”

Dr. Holly Shill, Director of Phoenix’s Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center

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