Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP)

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PSP is an abbreviation for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, also known as Steele Richardson Olszewski Syndrome. It is a disease somewhat similar to Parkinson's disease, and it currently has no cure, no treatment, no vaccination, and there's no hope of recovery from it. The cause of the disease is unknown. Estimates vary, but it is believed that as many as 14 in every 100,000 people suffer from PSP (UK estimate). PSP normally affects people in their 50s to 70s, but people much younger than this have contracted it. Dudley Moore, the actor, suffers from PSP.

The Symptoms

The symptoms of PSP vary widely, depending on exactly where protein plaques form and PSP is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson's disease. The most noticeable symptom of PSP is a difficulty in looking up or down and it is common for PSP sufferers to lose their balance and fall. PSP sufferers also tend to have difficulties swallowing food. Over time, the PSP sufferer will become less mobile, and eventually they will require full-time care.

Other symptoms may include speech problems, slowness of movement, and stiff or painful joints. PSP sufferers do not usually suffer from tremors, which is a common symptom of Parkinson's disease. Dementia is rare or mild in most cases, even in the advanced state of the disease.

The Condition

PSP was originally diagnosed in the 1960s and, because it is less well known and less widespread than its sibling disease, it was overlooked for many decades. Whereas Parkinson's disease can be alleviated by dopamine, this practice usually proves futile with PSP. No drugs have yet been discovered which arrest the symptoms of the disease.

There has been some research into the disease throughout the 1990s and autopsies show that PSP appears to share some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, in that protein clumps, or plaques, tend to form around the affected areas of the brain. However, damage tends to be centred around the areas of the brain controlling movement and balance, and not the areas controlling thought and reasoning, which distinguishes it from Alzheimer's.

The Causes

It is unknown whether PSP is caused by hereditary factors, environmental factors, or a combination of both. All sorts of reasons have been suggested, including water fluoridisation, electricity pylons, viruses and brain trauma. However, no firm links have yet been identified, although it is unlikely to be hereditary factors, as there is very little evidence to suggest that it is passed from generation to generation.

A Researcher's Experience

A very close family member of mine suffers PSP. We began to see the symptoms about six years ago, when he began to have difficulty speaking. Simple words and phrases would simply not come out. Over time, the problem became more and more pronounced, and eventually he had to give up his job. Then, his walking ability began to change. He fell a lot, sometimes badly cutting himself or bruising himself. In more recent years his speaking has deteriorated to a whisper, and he has difficulty walking and even eating. He has slowed down a great amount. He has suffered great agony from a frozen shoulder. However, he still has the same glint in his eye that I remember from his younger days, and he still manages to communicate with us and to let us know how he is. He has borne his affliction with great patience.

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