Jeremy Paxman on the Parkinson’s symptom he finds ‘really annoying’ – ‘horrid ailment’

University Challenge: Jeremy Paxman mocks video game question

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Paxman’s last series hosting the infamously tricky quiz show begins airing tonight (Monday, August 29), with the host claiming he has “had a blast” hosting the “wonderful series for nearly 29 years”. Yet this is not the last viewers will see of Paxman, who is working with ITV on a documentary about the illness that plagues him, with a camera crew following his life as he reflects on how Parkinson’s is affecting him. The programme, which was announced by ITV earlier this month is to be called Paxman: Putting Up with Parkinson’s.

When announcing his diagnosis last year Paxman said that he was receiving “excellent treatment” and considered himself relatively lucky as his symptoms, at that stage, were “currently mild”.

Even after announcing his step away from University Challenge, Paxman did not say anything further about the condition. But as the NHS notes, the condition affects specific parts of the brain which become “progressively damaged over many years”, meaning symptoms may not develop straight away.

Writing more about his diagnosis at the time, Paxman did address the unpredictability of his condition and what it might mean for him. He wrote: “The other day I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It isn’t a fatal prognosis, but it sure as hell can make living a bit of a b*.

“It is an irritatingly unpredictable illness, which means it can be humiliating, but it is a very long way short of the worst news one might be given.

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“There will be plenty of readers who know what I’m talking about from personal experience: according to my fellow Parkinson’s incubator, the comedy writer Paul Mayhew-Archer, two people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease every hour of the day.

“Which, as he points out, means that ‘some people get told at three o’clock in the morning’. At least it happened to me in daylight. So the disease is common enough. And it isn’t an immediate death sentence.”

It was while writing the same article for The Times that Paxman went on to explain how he first knew something wasn’t right and how he finds some of his symptoms rather funny.

He continued: “The first I knew of this horrid ailment was when the computer screen started filling up with gibberish — I was under the impression that I was elegantly making the case that the English Civil War was not about religion.

“Something had got lost on the journey from brain to keyboard,” he added before going on to admit that the condition was already putting pressure on his ability to do his job on University challenge: “So it’s not just the students who find University Challenge, well, challenging. [As the presenter] I am privileged to have a brilliant team with me. I expect they wish the same.

“I am lucky to have understanding family, friends and colleagues, and I am also fortunate in seeing the funny side of unexpectedly falling over — the disease is caused by inadequate production of dopamine, the brain chemical that tells the nerves what to do.”

More than a decade before being diagnosed with the illness, Paxman had already promised to donate his brain for research into Parkinson’s disease, a pledge he noted as “easy”.

Having spoken openly about the beginnings of his diagnosis and the effect it has already had on him, Paxman’s retirement is assumingly the next phase in his battle with the condition, which typically causes three main symptoms.

The NHS explains that the three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  1. Involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body (tremor)
  2. Slow movement
  3. Stiff and inflexible muscles.

However, an individual can also experience a wide range of other symptoms, which not only affect them physically but psychologically too. These can include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Balance problems (this may increase the chances of a fall)
  • Loss of sense of smell (anosmia)
  • Problems sleeping (insomnia)
  • Memory problems.

Paxman, who has suffered with trembling hands also went on to explain that he finds himself tired a lot of the time, which makes accepting that the condition is incurable even harder.

He said: “It’s the unpredictability that gets me. Sometimes you feel awake, sometimes you feel asleep, and how you are today is no guide to how you will be tomorrow. It’s really annoying.

“I find myself very tired a lot of the time. Parkinson’s is incurable, so you’re stuck with it. And that is hard.”

Although there is currently no cure for the condition, there are numerous treatments available to help reduce the main symptoms listed above. Treatments also aim to maintain an individual’s quality of life for as long as possible.

The main treatments include:

  • Supportive treatments, such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy
  • Medication
  • Brain surgery.

The NHS notes that many people respond well to treatment and only experience mild to moderate disability, whereas the minority may not respond as well and can, in time, become more severely disabled. Parkinson’s disease does not directly cause people to die, but the condition can place great strain on the body, and can make some people more vulnerable to serious and life-threatening infections.

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