Parkinson’s disease and the extraordinary story of the lady who can identify the condition through smell.

There has been considerable media coverage of the grandmother, Joy Milne, who can diagnose people with Parkinson’s Disease through her sense of smell. She is one of a very small minority of people with an acute, highly developed sense of smell. In interviews she laughingly describes this ability as half human half dog! But behind her story lies sadness but also hope. She worked as nurse and her husband was a doctor. Some 10 ten years or so before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s she had noticed a pronounced change in his smell and when she attended a Parkinson’s Clinic, she noticed that all the people attending had exactly this smell. Her husband was diagnosed with the illness years after she had first noticed the change in smell. Sadly, he has died from this treatable but incurable condition.

Her extraordinary ability was clinically tested. She was given several T-shirts to smell. Some belonged to a group with Parkinson’s, and some belonged to a group without it. She correctly identified sufferers and non-sufferers. But amazingly, she also succeeded in identifying one in the latter group who was subsequently diagnosed with the condition. The smell has been linked to an excessive secretion of sebum.

It is not quite clear where Joy’s singular gift is leading. But there is hope. If her gift can be translated into a system for early diagnosis, then treatments which delay the advance of the illness can be taken sooner. Although currently there is no cure there are treatments which delay deterioration, and if it can be developed, treatment based on detection by smell could begin more quickly.

As with so many conditions early diagnosis and treatment greatly improve Pulse’s chances of providing Life insurance.

The progression of the disease is highly variable between individuals but globally consists of a slow worsening of symptoms and so the extent and stability of the symptoms is the main underwriting factor for Pulse to consider. The development of the condition maybe divided into 5 stages on the Hoehn and Yahr scale. We can consider anything mild and stable up to Stage 3 below.


Hoehn and Yahr Scale

Stage I:

Signs and symptoms on one side only

Mild symptoms

Symptoms inconvenient but not disabling

Usually present with tremor of one limb

Friends have noticed changes in posture, locomotion and facial expression

Stage II:

Symptoms are bilateral

Minimal disability

Posture and gait affected

Stage III:

Significant slowing of body movements

Early impairment of equilibrum on walking or standing

Generalized dysfunction that is moderately severe

Stage IV:

Severe Symptoms

Can still walk to a limited extend

Rigidity and bradykinesia

No longer able to live alone

Tremor may be less important than in earlier stages

Stage V:

Cachectic stage

Invalidism complete

Cannot stand or walk

Requires constant nursing care


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