George HW Bush Vascular Parkinsonism, Small serial strokes are the probable cause of the brain condition that has put former President George H.W. Bush in a wheelchair, a top medical expert tells Newsmax Health. “People think of a stroke as a major event where they suddenly have slurred speech or a weakness on one side, but tiny strokes can happen over a period of time, and people don’t notice them until they reach a certain threshold,” says Dr. Nestor Galvez-Jimenez, chief of neurology and director of the Movement Disorders Program at Cleveland Clinic Florida.
The 88-year-old Bush suffers from a condition called vascular parkinsonism, which differs from the more common form of Parkinson’s disease that is typically characterized by tremors.
This week, Bush’s spokesman revealed that the Bushes would skip next month’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., because of his medical condition. In May, Bush was photographed using a wheelchair at the White House unveiling of portraits of his son George W. and daughter-in-law Laura.
In a recent interview, Bush Sr. sounded upbeat in acknowledging his disability. “It just affects the legs,” he told Parade magazine. “It’s not painful. You tell your legs to move and they don’t move. It’s strange, but if you have to have some bad-sounding disease, this is a good one to get.”
Until recently, Bush seemed to be almost age-proof. In 2009 he celebrated his 85th birthday by going skydiving, as he had done for many birthdays before.
As many as 1 million Americans are living with various forms of Parkinson’s disease, with 60,000 more diagnosed each year. After typical Parkinson’s disease, vascular parkinsonism accounts for the largest segment, said Dr. Galvez-Jimenez. “People don’t realize that not everybody with Parkinson’s disease looks like Michael J. Fox. This is not the case in vascular parkinsonism,” said Dr. Galvez-Jimenez.
Primary treatments for vascular parkinsonism focus on reducing stroke risk factors, like controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Aspirin is usually given to prevent blood clots. Physical therapy can help, and the use of assistive devices is often required. Besides a wheelchair, Bush also uses a motorized scooter to get around, according to another of his sons, Jeb.
Vascular parkinsonism, unlike common Parkinson’s, usually doesn’t run in families, so his children likely are not at great risk, said Dr. Galvez-Jimenez, adding, “Like anyone else, his children would be advised to do all they can to practice healthy habits to reduce stroke risk.”