Have you ever wondered where all the official PD symbolism comes from, or why April was specifically chosen to celebrate Parkinson's Awareness Month?
The answer is that it’s the birth month of James Parkinson, the London physician who was the first to describe a PD case in 1817. At that time, he was most known for authoring a work titled An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in which he described “paralysis agitans.”
The name “Parkinson’s Disease” as we know it wasn’t coined until about 60 years later, by French neurologist and professor Jean-Martin Charcot.
The first official World Parkinson’s Day was recognized on April 11th, 1997 — Which would have marked James Parkinson’s 242nd birthday.
But what about the other iconic symbols associated with Parkinson’s?
The Tulip - In 1980, Dutch Horticulturist and Parkinson’s patient J. W. S. Van der Wereld developed a red and white tulip. The following year, he named his prized cultivation after James Parkinson to honor both the man who discovered his disease and 1981 as the International Year of the Disabled.
On April 11th, 2005, Van der Wereld’s tulip was named the worldwide symbol of Parkinson’s Disease at the 9th Annual World Parkinson’s Day conference in Luxembourg.
Interestingly, the famous stylized tulip logo with leaves shaped like a “P” and a “D” was designed by a Young Onset Parkinson’s patient named Karen Painter. The symbol was universally adopted by the Parkinson’s community in 2010.
The Ribbon - Similar to the pink breast cancer ribbon associated with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Parkinson’s Disease has a ribbon, too! The official color is grey or silver, depending on who you ask.
There’s no official reason provided for the color choice, but some like to think grey was picked to represent the “grey matter” in the brain that’s affected by the disease.
The Raccoon - Yes, you read that correctly — PD has its very own mascot: Parky the Raccoon.
Parky came about in 2013 when WPC Ambassador Bob Khun decided to travel around the world with a cardboard cutout of a raccoon. Since the animal is only native to North America, the cutout served to capture peoples’ attention so he could spark conversations about PD.
According to the World PD Coalition, a few other reasons the raccoon was chosen include:
A raccoon’s distinctive mask represents the “Parkinson’s Mask”
PD can affect sleep, and raccoons are often nocturnal
They’re highly curious, adaptive, and inventive problem-solvers — much like those with PD who implement creative solutions for their limitations in mobility and dexterity
You can even visit WhereIsParky.org to find out where Parky is in the world right now.
To Sum It All Up - While these icons and symbols are fun, they also serve the greater purpose of spreading awareness about PD. After all, that’s what this month is all about, right?
Looking back to see how much we’ve learned about Parkinson’s and how the community has grown since An Essay on the Shaking Palsy was published in 1817, the future of PD awareness and research has never looked brighter.
What groundbreaking new discoveries are next?