Volume 9, Number 1 August 10, 2001

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Rajput says Diefenbaker didn’t have Parkinson’s, and names ‘essential tremors’ after former PM

– Scientist says no link between Dief’s tremors and mental ability –

Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker looks down from a portrait in the Diefenbaker Canada Centre as Dr. Ali Rajput tells reporters that ‘the Chief’ suffered from essential tremors, and not Parkinson’s Disease as had previously been rumored.

Scientific sleuthing by the head of the U of S Dept. of Medicine’s Neurology Division has laid to rest the old politically motivated allegation that former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker had Parkinson’s Disease and might have been mentally unfit for office.

Instead, Dr. Ali Rajput told a June 7 news conference at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre on the U of S campus, Dief’s obvious involuntary shaking of hands and head were caused by a condition called "essential tremors".

Rajput says people have known about that condition for about 200 years – but now his research team is the first to discover that essential tremors are related to unusually high levels of noradrenaline in the brain. He and his team analysed the brain tissue of three former patients with tremors for many chemicals, such as amino acids, and then for noradrenaline.

"We used old-fashioned tools, not multi-million-dollar machines. I’m happy we could do it in this province, with our limited resources," Rajput said at the news conference.

After determining the cause of the essential tremors in the initial patients, Rajput conducted a lengthy diagnosis of Diefenbaker, including a search of medical records and interviews with former friends.

He also made extensive use of records from the Diefenbaker Archives held at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre. Diefenbaker’s brain wasn’t analysed. The former prime minister died in 1979 at age 83.

The U of S scientists says he is calling the condition "the Diefenbaker Disease".

"It has nothing to do with intelligence," Rajput told reporters, adding this should put an end to the old charges Diefenbaker had Parkinson’s Disease and wasn’t mentally fit to govern.

He said "at least one per cent of the population has essential tremors".

Rajput and his team recently presented their findings at a Philadelphia meeting of the American Academy of Neurology – where some colleagues hailed it as a major medical breakthrough. Of the 300 papers presented at the conference, Rajput’s was one of just six chosen for special recognition.

Rajput said he intends to continue his work on essential tremors and other diseases.

Further areas of study include determining why some people have these high noradrenaline levels – which Rajput thinks may have a genetic link – and also determining exactly how the excess noradrenaline actually causes the tremors.

A number of Diefenbaker’s friends have welcomed Rajput’s findings.

Diefenbaker estate executor and former broadcaster Joel Aldred was reported as saying, "I think it’s critically important to know these things. I never ever thought he had Parkinson’s Disease."

Diefenbaker Canada Centre Director Bruce Shepard told the news media, "It will help to put things into proper perspective. It just shows how rumor or innuendo can affect our perceptions of our leaders."

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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