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Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2000 Oct 1;6(4):205-214.

From Wilhelm von Humboldt to Hitler-are prominent people more prone to have Parkinson's disease?

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SBU Therapeutics, Schering Aktiengesellschaft, D 13342, Berlin, Germany


We describe Parkinsonism in prominent people, where Wilhelm von Humboldt and Adolf Hitler provide just two spectacular, opposing examples. In both of them, there is little if any evidence that the disease did influence their life ambitions, methods of achieving them or cognitive function in general. Thus, Hitler's Parkinsonism should remain a 'footnote' to history, and historians should acknowledge that in his last years, his trembling, his curbed posture, his slow walking, mask-like face and low voice did not indicate remorse, fear or depression as a consequence of his crimes, but were mere expressions of his disease which, until the end, had no impact on his intellectual skills and methods. The apparently higher incidence of Parkinsonism in prominent people may be just due to their higher visibility, or a consequence of disease-related personality traits (e.g. ambition, perfectionism, rigidity) which may contribute to becoming, e.g., a prominent authoritarian person. Perhaps even some early behaviour pattern (such as repressed emotions or acting in public-which could even increase the risk of some infection) contributes to a greater vulnerability for developing Parkinsonism. Further studying other prominent cases might lead us to better understanding of risk factors and the expression of early Parkinsonism.


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