Section 9
Chapter 8,145

An essay on Wilhelm von Humboldt and the shaking palsy: first comprehensive description of Parkinson's disease by a patient

Horowski, R.; Horowski, L.; Vogel, S.; Poewe, W.; Kielhorn, F.W.; von Humboldt, W.

Neurology 45(3 Pt 1): 565-568


ISSN/ISBN: 0028-3878
PMID: 7898719
DOI: 10.1212/wnl.45.3.565
Accession: 008144051

James Parkinson first described what is now known as Parkinson's disease in his essay in 1817 on the shaking palsy, but the disease became well-known to neurologists only in the second half of the 19th century. In his letters from 1828 until his death in 1835, Wilhelm von Humboldt, a well-known German academic reformer, humanist scholar, and statesman, precisely described the manifestations of this disease. These included resting tremor and especially problems in writing, called by him "a special clumsiness" that he attributed to a disturbance in executing rapid complex movements. In addition to lucidly describing akinesia, he was also the first to describe micrographia. He furthermore noticed his typical parkinsonian posture and, in all probability, his rigidity as "internal tremor not visible by others which causes a distortion of the continuity of my movements." He insisted, however, that he was suffering not from a disease but just from accelerated aging related to the death of his wife. His description of the disease is more complete than the observations and definition by James Parkinson; his attitude toward his disease illustrates why it was not readily accepted as a disease in itself but might have been considered an extreme variant of aging instead.

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