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Still Fighting for a Cause

Georgia: Top Brain Docs Explore ‘Staying Sharp’

Muhammad Ali's wife, Lonnie, speaks out about Parkinson's disease.

Muhammad Ali consults with neurologist Mahlon DeLong on most medical issues because of possible complications with Parkinson’s disease.

Photo courtesy Emory University

(Editor's Note: Because of a family emergency, neither Muhammad Ali nor Lonnie Ali will be able to attend the Staying Sharp forum.)

He’s still the Greatest, but the Louisville Lip’s mouth doesn’t move as fast as it did in his prime. 

Now, boxing legend Muhammad Ali lets his wife, Lonnie, do most of the talking.

Since Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1982, he has advocated for more research. He is scheduled to be in Atlanta Saturday, April 18, when Lonnie and some of the world’s top specialists discuss diseases of the brain.

A self-described “motor mouth,” she’s been a crusader for Parkinson’s patients. At the “Staying Sharp” forum, an AARP initiative, she’s likely to dominate the panel the way her husband did his foes. She said her role will be to talk about caregiving.

Thanks to her efforts, the champ leads as normal a life as possible. He attends sporting events such as the NBA All-Star Game, concerts by Willie Nelson and Celine Dion and a performance by magician David Copperfield. He loves watching old Elvis Presley movies and going out with friends. The couple divides time among homes in Phoenix, Louisville, Ky., and Berrien Springs, Mich., where their high school son, Asaad, plays baseball.

“He’s supposed to take meds four to five times a day,” said Lonnie, 52. “With Muhammad, if we get him to take them three to four times, that would be good. It’s always a challenge to be a caregiver. It’s full time. I can afford to have help. But a lot of families can’t and are challenged.”

Although Ali, 67, is highly functional, “you can’t leave him alone,” she said.

Like most Parkinson’s patients, Ali takes a drug called levodopa, or L-dopa. It replaces the brain’s messenger dopamine cells that die from the disease. Drugs help many patients lead fairly normal lives.

“Muhammad does quite well on his medications,” said Mahlon DeLong, his Parkinson’s specialist for more than a dozen years and a neurologist at the Emory University School of Medicine. “He can talk, but has a hard time speaking with enough volume to be heard, and is a little unsteady on his feet. But he exercises, which is good.”

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