29 July 1999

Disease Helped Defeat Hitler

by Kate Melville

Sometimes help can come from the most unexpected places. A conference has recently been told that Adolph Hitler may have suffered from Parkinson's Disease and that the disease symptoms may have contributed to the defeat of the Nazis in World War Two.

It is widely accepted that the failure of the Germans to respond quickly to the 1944 Normandy invasion was critical to the outcome of the war. The researchers believe that Hitler's apparent mental inflexibility associated with the event may have been caused in part by the disease. The findings were delivered at an address at the International Congress on Parkinson's Disease in Vancouver,

The physical and mental symptoms of Parkinson's were present in Hitler at the time of the invasion, and his aides attempted to keep his problems a secret, according to Tom Hutton, a neurologist who co-authored the study.

Parkinson's causes slowly spreading tremors and muscular weakness that can lead to debilitating muscular rigidity. It is believed caused by the death of nerve cells that normally produce dopamine, a chemical that transmits messages in the brain.

Hutton contends that by the time of the Normandy invasion, Hitler had suffered Parkinson's for 10 years, at which point many with the disease have cognitive problems such as an inability to process conflicting information.

Hitler is said to have been so convinced the Allies would attempt to invade France at Calais that he initially refused to release Panzer units that could have helped stop Allied troops in Normandy.

"Hitler's slowness to counterattack at Normandy may have been secondary to mental inflexibility and difficulty in shifting concepts due to Parkinsonism," according to the discussion paper prepared for Hutton's presentation.

The study by Hutton and J.L. Morris of the Neurology Research and Education Center in Texas cited reports from officials who treated Hitler in 1944 and 1945 that described him as having lost "his mental flexibility."