What is Parkinson’s Mask? The symptom that led to Jeremy Paxman’s diagnosis

The broadcaster was diagnosed with the disease after collapsing while out on a walk

Saman Javed
Wednesday 05 October 2022 13:27 BST
Jeremy Paxman takes part in dementia ballet class

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Louise Thomas

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Jeremy Paxman has revealed that his doctor diagnosed him with Parkinson’s disease after noticing a change in the way he looked on TV.

The former Newsnight presenter was diagnosed with the condition after collapsing while out walking his dog.

During a visit to the hospital, his doctor told him that he had noticed the broadcaster “wasn’t as effusive and exuberant as normal”.

Around 150,000 people in the UK suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over the years.

The three main symptoms of the condition are involuntary shaking of parts of the body, known as tremors, slow movement, and stiff and inflexible muscles.

According to the NHS, Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This leads to a reduction in a chemical called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating the movement of the body.

The doctor noted that Paxman was exhibiting signs of a “Parkinson’s Mask”.

Recalling the day of his diagnosis, Paxman said: “Well, it was completely out of the blue. I was having a walk in the square across the way. There was ice around and I had the dog with me – the dog was on a lead.

“The first thing I knew was when somebody was sitting me on a bench. I’d fallen over and I made a terrible mess of my face. I’d gone straight down on my hooter, which, as you can see, is not small. Cuts all over the place. I was a real mess. And when I was in A&E, a doctor walked in and said ‘I think you’ve got Parkinson’s’.

“And it turned out that he had been watching University Challenge and had noticed that my face had acquired what’s known as the Parkinson Mask.”

Here’s everything you need to know about the symptom of the disease.

What is a Parkinson’s Mask?

Parkinson’s Mask is a symptom of Parkinson’s disease, also known as Hypomimia.

A lack of dopamine can stop facial muscles performing as well as they should, leading to a loss or reduction of facial expression. Those with this symptom may find raising an eyebrow or smiling difficult.

Those who suffer from a “Parkinson’s Mask” may seem less animated, and may look “flat and sad”, according to charity Parkinson’s UK.

The charity said this lack of expression does not mean someone with Parkinson’s is feeling low or depressed, “they just can’t use their facial muscles to express themselves as easily anymore”.

“However, many people with Parkinson’s also report issues like apathy and problems with motivation, meaning they may not respond to emotions like they used to,” the charity added.

Can the symptom be managed?

One sufferer of Parkinson’s diease, named Mark, shared his experience with Parkinson’s UK.

Mark’s wife Chrissie noted that he appeared less animated by things, and that he was less able to express himself.

At the same time, Mark was also struggling with his mental health. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health symptoms that affect people with Parkinson’s. A 2007 survey found that 58 per cent of people with the disease had felt depresssed, while 45 per cent felt anxious.

“I was having problems physically expressing my emotions, but my mental health issues continued to affect me too. So not only could I not move my facial muscles easily, but the feelings of motivation, enjoyment and enthusiasm all seemed to have waned and diminished within me,” Mark said.

In a bid to counter the symptoms, he was prescribed co-careldopa and selegiline which helped to boost his dopamine levels.

“After I was prescribed the right medication, friends and family said I looked much happier, and that I was smiling and laughing more. Adjusting my medication regime really helped,” Mark said.

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