Alan Alda Reveals His Parkinson’s Diagnosis

How he found out, how he's dealing with it and his advice for others

Alan Alda, the award-winning actor, writer, educator, TV host and host of the new Clear and Vivid With Alan Alda podcast, revealed today on CBS This Morning that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “It’s a puzzle to be solved to see what I have to do to carry on a normal life,” he said, adding that “I enjoy solving puzzles.”

With his trademark wit and intelligence, Alda (known for portraying “Hawkeye” Pierce on TV’s M*A*S*H) explained why he went public about this, how the Parkinson’s is and isn’t changing his life and what he wants others to know about the neurogenerative disorder that more than one million Americans have. “I joined the fraternity,” Alda, 82, said, his thumb visibly twitching during the live interview.

Alan Alda on His Parkinson’s: ‘It Hasn’t Stopped My Life at All’

Alda got the diagnosis 3 ½ years ago and said that “it hasn’t stopped my life at all.” Since learning he has Parkinson’s, Alda added, “I have had a richer life than I’ve had up to now.” He has continued acting, giving talks and launched the podcast about communicating well.

Alda explained that he didn’t have any symptoms when he asked his doctor to perform a scan to see if he had Parkinson’s. “I thought I might have it,” he explained, saying that he had read a New York Times article about the disease noting that “if you act out your dreams, there’s a good chance you have an early symptom.” Alda had dreamed someone was attacking him and threw a stack of potatoes at them. In reality, he had thrown a pillow at his wife, Arlene.

Why He Asked His Doctor for a Scan

Alda said his doctor asked him: “Why do you want a scan?” He replied: “I want to do it before things show up.” A few months later, he started getting a “little twitch in my thumb.”

Explaining why he went public with his medical news, Alda said: “I want folks to know that in the very beginning [of a Parkinson’s diagnosis] you can be immobilized by fear and think it’s the worst thing that has happened. But you still have things you can do.” In Alda’s case, he’s taking boxing lessons three times a week, playing tennis weekly and “marching to Sousa music, because it’s good for Parkinson’s.” It helps to move rhythmically when you have Parkinson’s, Alda added.

The namesake of the Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University joked that “it would be kind of ironic if I kept quiet when I have a center for communicating science named after me.”

Alda said he’ll cover his Parkinson’s news in an upcoming Clear and Vivid With Alan Alda podcast. “I want to spread the word,” he said.

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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