You’ve probably been reading about “fake news” and our new “post-factual environment”. So you can imagine how dubious I was when I scanned through my Facebook and saw one of those “sponsored pages” (i.e., an ad). The page was from some Parkinson’s organization I had never heard of and asked if you had this Parkison’s symptom — uncontrollable laughter or crying. “Share your experiences with the pseudobulbar affect,” the ad said (or something like that — the page has disappeared when I went back to Facebook.)
Uncontrollable laughter — this sounded like a great joke. I immediately thought of Ed Wynn singing “I Love to Laugh” in Mary Poppins. His character, Uncle Albert, had such a bad case of uncontrollable laughter that he floated up to the ceiling, “full of glee”, as he bellowed:
I love to laugh, long and loud and clear —
I love to laugh, it’s getting worse every year!
And uncontrollable laughter really doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. I will freely admit that ever since the election I’ve been pulling the covers over my head (metaphorically and literally) hoping I will wake up from the bad dream. Laughter sounds like a great idea.
But uncontrollable laughter is really a medical problem. I Googled the phrase and sure enough, up popped “pseudobulbar affect”. And – aha, no wonder I got a “sponsored page” — there is a drug to deal with it. The second listing on the Google search is headlined, “Do I have PBA?” on a website created by a pharmaceutical company featuring a handy quiz you can discuss with your doctor.
The definition from this same website: “PseudoBulbar Affect (PBA) is a condition that causes sudden, frequent and uncontrollable episodes of crying and/or laughing that don’t match how you feel inside. It is a distinct condition that can happen in people with a brain injury or certain neurologic conditions.”
Another website from, hmmm….the same pharmaceutical company, informs me that none other than Charles Darwin was the first guy to describe this condition. PBA is described as a short circuit between the areas of the brain that expresses emotions and the area of the brain that controls emotions. And where does the funky term come from? “Pseudo” means false, “bulbar” refers to the brainstem and “affect” describes how the body shows mood or emotion.
Uncontrollable laughter isn’t a symptom I’m too concerned about – it’s treatable and impacts perhaps 3% of Parkies. I’m more concerned about continuing to have laughter in my life. Drop me a comment and tell me what you do to keep the laughter coming. And in the meantime, get a chuckle out of Ed Wynn on YouTube.