1817. James Parkinson

James Parkinson (1755-1824) was an English neurologist. Information on his medical education is unknown; his name was first mentioned in a list of surgeons in 1784. Initially, he was mainly active in politics, criticizing the government of William Pitt the Younger and probably taking part in conspiracies against King George III. Subsequently, Parkinson turned away from his tumultuous political career, publishing several medical works between 1799 and 1807, including a text on gout in 1805. In particular, in 1799 Parkinson published a work called Medical Admonitions, that was the first in a series of popular works by Parkinson aimed toward the improvement of the general health and well-being of the population. His humanitarianism appeared again in 1811, when he crusaded for better safeguards in regulating madhouses and for legal protection for the mental patients, their keepers, doctors, and families. Together with his son surgeon, he also described one of the first cases of ruptured appendix in English medical literature (1812). In his work renowned An Essay on the Shaking Palsy (1817), Parkinson first described six individuals with symptoms of the disease that bears his name. In particular, three of these subjects were his own patients, while three cases were people who he saw in the street. He referred to the disease as “paralysis agitans” or “shaking palsy”, distinguishing between resting tremors and the tremors with motion. In particular, Parkinson described symptoms as “involuntary tremulous motion, with lessened muscular power, in parts not in action and even when supported; with a propensity to bend the trunk forwards, and to pass from a walking to a running pace: the senses and intellect being uninjured”. Basing on this modern description, Charcot coined the term “Parkinson’s disease” at the end of the nineteenth century. In the last years of his life, Parkinson’s field of interest gradually changed from medicine to natural science and, in particular, in the study of fossil remains and geology. He was the author of several geological papers in “A Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts” and in some volumes of the “Geological Society’s Transactions”.

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