Louisville man with early onset Parkinson’s gives back

An aging population could explain much of the increase in the incidence of Parkinson’s disease, although early onset Parkinson’s affects younger people. Louisville’s Jason Smith was diagnosed in his 40s and is giving back.

It’s Friday evening, and Against the Grain Brewery in Louisville, Kentucky, is hopping. There’s food to serve, drinks to make and customers to keep happy. In the thick of it all is director of operations Jason Smith. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but Jason, 48, has been battling Parkinson’s disease for eight years.

Pouring a beer, Jason recalled first being diagnosed.

“It was shock because people think it’s an older, generational issue,” Jason said. “I’m sitting there going, ‘I’m 40. This can’t be true.’”

According to a recent study supported by the Parkinson’s Foundation, about 90,000 Americans receive a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis each year, a number that is 50% higher than previous estimates.

Justin T. Phillips, M.D., is a neurologist who is medical director of movement disorders at Norton Neuroscience Institute. According to Dr. Phillips, an aging population could explain much of the increase in the incidence of Parkinson’s, although young people also can be diagnosed with the disease.

“When we look at Parkinson’s as a whole, probably 5% to up to 10% of people with Parkinson’s have young onset Parkinson’s, so under the age of 50,” Dr. Phillips said. “It’s not exceedingly uncommon, but when you look at the population as a whole, it’s relatively uncommon to have Parkinson’s at a young age.”

Jason was at the doctor for an unrelated issue when he found out he had Parkinson’s. One of the symptoms of the disease is a tremor, which he had in his right hand for some time.

“I drink a ton of coffee,” Jason said. “I just always thought I was over-caffeinated.”

Denim & Diamonds Gala Celebration

Join us Oct. 6, 2023, for an evening of samplings from Louisville’s finest chefs at our gala supporting the Parkinson Support Center of Kentuckiana, a part of Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Centers.

Working through Parkinson’s

Jason has not let the disease slow him down. He continues to work a very full schedule and expects to have many more years ahead of him. Jason also focuses on both mental and physical fitness.

“Positive mental attitude is 90% of the wellness,” he said. “I’m fully optimistic. I love what I do. I’m looking forward to more successful years ahead. I’m not going to let it hold me back.”

According to Dr. Phillips, his patients with that that kind of attitude typically do better when managing and slowing the progression of the disease.

“When I look at my patients who have been really successful, they’re the people who have said, ‘I got Parkinson’s. That’s a setback perhaps, but I’m going to keep doing what I want to do. And I’m going to have a great quality of life, and I’m not going to let it get me down,’” Dr. Phillips said.

In addition to a positive outlook, medicine, physical rehabilitation, and in some cases surgery can help patients manage their symptoms or slow the progress of their disease. The Norton Neuroscience Institute Cressman Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center is a comprehensive program designed to provide patients with a variety of treatment options in one convenient location.

Supporting the cause

There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but doctors continue to do extensive research. Norton Neuroscience Institute offers many programs and services for the thousands of local patients with the disease and other neurological conditions.

With the help of Jason and other local chefs, the Norton Healthcare Foundation will host the 16th annual Denim & Diamonds Gala Celebration this fall. Guests will savor signature appetizers and a main course provided by Louisville’s finest chefs — while enjoying live music, tasting tables, a specialty cocktail, open bar, photo booth, and live and silent auctions.

“Denim & Diamonds started out as a chef-driven event, and I’ve been in the food and beverage industry for over 30 years,” Jason said. “It only made sense for me to be involved.”

Funds raised will help support Parkinson’s support services at the Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Centers. All ticket purchases go toward offering free programs, services, and education to those living with Parkinson’s disease in our community.

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