Despite living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) for 16 years, I've always considered myself an adventurous person. I lived in eight cities by choice, moved to Canada alone, took long distance bicycle trips, climbed the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, and had Deep Brain Stimulation surgery.
Then I read the research of University of South Florida’s, Kelly Sullivan, PhD, Parkinson’s Personality: Disease More Likely to Strike Cautious People, I discovered that I met some of the study’s criteria for having a cautious personality—I don’t speed while driving, I always wear a seat belt, I avoid roller coasters, and I’ve never tried skydiving.
Sullivan’s study indicates that:
- Persons with PD tend to be more cautious and avoid taking risks compared to those who don’t have Parkinson’s.
- The tendency to avoid taking risks appears to be a stable personality trait across a person with PD’s lifetime.
The chicken and/or egg question also needs to be addressed: Are cautious people more susceptible to developing PD and/or does having PD make people more cautious and risk-averse?
The theory behind this is that people with PD have lower levels of dopamine which is associated with muscle movement. The loss of dopamine-producing cells occurs over a long time. By the time the physical symptoms of PD appear such as tremor, stiffness, slowness, balance, dopamine is at a very low level with about 70% of dopamine has deteriorated.
Too little dopamine also affects personality. In persons with low dopamine levels, experiences such as sky-diving and roller coaster riding fail to produce the feeling of exhilaration, but are outweighed by feelings of imminent risk and danger.
Just to prove that I am not totally risk-avoidant, I’m going to take a “measured” risk this summer and after a lot of research to find the perfect location, I’ll go zip-lining in the mountains. I hope that I can then describe myself as sometimes “wild and crazy" despite having that cautious Parkinson's personality.