The 18th-century British physician (1755-1824) who first described the symptoms and progression of the disease that now bears his name. Parkinson’s father, John, also was a physician, and James Parkinson eventually took over his practice. In 1817 Parkinson published a medical paper, “Essay on the Shaking Palsy,” in which he discussed the collection of symptoms he had observed in numerous patients through his years of practice. The shaking palsy, he wrote, was marked by 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 intellects being uninjured.
The medical community paid little attention, however, until the French neuropathologist Jean Martin Charcot rediscovered Parkinson’s paper some 40 years after its publication and added his observations about the disease to Parkinson’s. Not until the 20th century did the medical community begin to refer to the shaking palsy as Parkinson’s disease.
During his lifetime Parkinson was better known as an amateur paleontologist than as a physician. He traveled extensively to collect fossils and published a three-volume series about his efforts to identify them, Organic Remains of the Former World. The three books were published in 1804, 1808, and 1811. He published a follow-up volume, Elements of Oryctology: An Introduction to the Study of Fossil Organic Remains, in 1822. These writings remain highly regarded in Great Britain today for their work in laying the foundation of fossil identification and study for the region.
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