As the Home Improvement mom America could relate to, actress Patricia Richardson went from the TV limelight to being a national spokesperson for Cure PSP — an organization combating a rare and often misdiagnosed brain disease that claimed the life of her father and fuels her fight to find a cure.
“He probably had the disease [for] five or six years before we knew he did,” Patricia says. “We’re only really catching one in probably three people with it.”
PSP, or progressive supranuclear palsy, is a degenerative neurological disorder that causes abnormal movement, similar to that of Parkinson’s disease. People suffering from PSP develop sluggish body movement and stiffness, as well as balance problems and difficulty with eye and neck motility. PSP is caused by an inability to process natural waste from the cells in the brain. Most people can process this waste but for those with PSP, the waste remains in the brain and creates a protein that attacks the brain cells. Oftentimes, people are misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s and prescribed medication. If the medication proves ineffective, it signals that PSP may be the cause, as opposed to other brain diseases.
Approximately five people in every 100,000 will develop PSP, but only a third are diagnosed. Unfortunately, an official diagnosis usually occurs after death, when doctors can examine the brain during an autopsy to verify if the proteins that cause PSP are present. The best living diagnosis is if patients are not reacting well to their Parkinson’s medication. PSP usually develops in people in their 50s and 60s – not in the later years. The disease tends to last between five and 10 years, before patients die from related health complications, such as aspirational pneumonia and brain ulcers. Researchers speculate that there may be a genetic component to PSP, but the specific gene has yet to be identified.