Tuesday, July 27, 1999
Hitler's defeat after Allied invasion attributed to Parkinson's disease
Pamela Fayerman The Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER - The effects of Parkinson's disease on Adolf Hitler's brain may have contributed to his defeat after the Allied invasion of Europe, according to an American neurologist.
Dr. Tom Hutton, in Vancouver to present his findings tomorrow to 2,400 delegates at the 13th International Congress on Parkinson's Disease, said in an interview that Hitler's disease was a carefully guarded secret during the war.
While his shaky hands and other symptoms of the disease were well concealed, "it now seems apparent that Hitler also exhibited cognitive deficits of Parkinsonism towards the end of World War II," said Dr. Hutton, a Texas physician who treats Parkinson's patients and has a passion for studying how neurological disorders have affected historical figures.
He said up to 40% of Parkinson sufferers lose decision-making functions and become mentally inflexible.
A doctor treating Hitler in 1944 said his movements and reactions became slower and his trembling was nearly constant.
Dr. Hutton said Hitler's chief of staff, Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, referred to Hitler's mental state in 1945 by saying: "He had lost his mental flexibility and imagination."
The study is published in the journal Parkinsonism and Related Disorders.
Dr. Hutton and co-author J.L. Morris, a psychologist, said their study points to Hitler's Parkinson impairments as "arguably determining the outcome of the Battle of Normandy.
"Allied forces invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944. German defenders called for reinforcements, including the release of Panzer (armoured division) units. Hitler refused. The request was slow in even getting to Hitler due to a sleep disorder common in Parkinsonians consisting of insomnia followed by daytime somnolence," the study said.
Because of Hitler's renowned temper, aides were worried about waking him and by the next day, the Allies had solidified their hold on the beachhead.
Though the Germans mounted a counterattack, it was too little, too late. Hitler clung to the belief that the battle was to be fought at Calais. "Hitler's slowness to counter attack at Normandy may have been secondary to mental inflexibility and difficulty in shifting concepts due to parkinsonism. This reduced the effectiveness of the Axis powers to conduct the Battle of Normandy and impacted the outcome of World War II," the study said.
Dr. Hutton's work is bound to stir controversy among delegates and history buffs.
Dr. Donald Calne, chair of the congress and director of the Neurodegenerative Disorders Centre at the Vancouver Hospital and the University of British Columbia, said it is difficult for him to conclude that Hitler's disease influenced ill-fated decisions that other historians have blamed on such things as arguments between Hitler's generals.
But Dr. Hutton said Hitler had sole command. "He was the one making the calls."
In the past decade, Hitler's Parkinson's has been well-documented, especially the treatment he received at the hands of his personal physician Dr. Theodore Morell, who has been variously referred to by historians as an eccentric, a charlatan and a quack.
Dr. Fritz Redlich, a former dean of Yale University School of Medicine and a former psychiatry professor at the University of California, has studied the medical treatment given by Dr. Morell. Six years ago, Dr. Redlich reported that Dr. Morell gave Hitler opiates, cocaine, barbiturates, laxatives, leeches for his vertigo, tonics and useless hormones.
The Bulgarian Belladonna plant was the treatment of choice at the time for tremours, and Hitler is believed to have been prescribed that, ostensibly for his abdominal gas.
Now neurologists have several drugs in their arsenal to help reduce such symptoms and to replace the chemical messenger called dopamine in the brain.
In Parkinson's disease, the loss of dopamine gradually and progressively impairs muscle movement. In a five-year study to be released today, a drug called ropinirole hydrochloride (ReQuip) is said to cut the undesirable side effects such as twitching and jerking associated with other standard treatments such as levdopa.
At the meeting, which was officially opened yesterday by Allan Rock, the federal Health Minister announced the government would more than double its annual funding in Parkinson's research.
Through the Medical Research Council, the government will be giving $6.8-million over five years to Dr. Calne and 13 of his colleagues at UBC.
Dr. Calne said some of the money will be used to purchase a new high-tech brain scanner to replace the 10-year-old equipment they are now using.
See too Monday, May 17, 1999