I can recall very well the very day I recognized that my father was struggling with a problem. It was 1993 — my wife and I had just moved out to California, and my parents came for a brief visit — all the way from Massachusetts. At our first lunch together I and my mother were strolling behind my dad and my wife. They were in a heated discussion about golf, and I was puzzled to see my dad walking differently than usual — with one hand balled into a fist, and leaning slightly to the left. When I asked mom about this, she said he’d been doing it for the past month or so. I was worried about this, so when I asked my dad to please go see a doctor about it he agreed.
He was as good as his word — but his family doctor was not ready to make a final diagnosis right away. He advised dad to go see a specialist — a neurologist. Dad didn’t want to go to all that trouble, but mom encouraged him to go. The neurologist ran some further tests and came back with a devastating diagnosis — my father had Parkinson’s disease. This would change all of our lives in the coming years.
Luckily, a family friend who was a neighbor of my mom and dad’s on Cape Cod was already dealing with Parkinson’s, and so he helped my parents deal with initial shock, disbelief, fear, and despair that such a diagnosis always brings. Another family friend also developed Parkinson’s a few months after dad’s diagnosis, and so a sort of support group grew up around the three of them. It was a very educational time for my parents and me and my siblings. I began logging on to the Parkinson’s disease Foundation’s blog site so I could educate myself about this mysterious disease that was changing my dad so much. I printed out several articles for dad — who was an avid reader. My parents took out a subscription for Neurology Today so they could follow the latest news on current treatments and any forthcoming clinical trials.
My studies told me that for most people the disease manifests itself very slowly, and this held true for dad. It was several years before the symptoms began affecting his quality of life in a major way. And the medications he was on really helped to postpone the onset of serious symptoms. Dad’s neurologist was up on all the latest medications, and so when one set of medicines began to lose effect he would switch dad to different type of medication to continue to slow down Parkinson’s inevitable symptoms. Dad was an avid jogger, biker, and swimmer, along with frequent golf games and calisthenics — this all helped keep major symptoms at bay for a long time. Because my dad had a support group of friends who were dealing with the same issues he was, he was able to stay buoyant and optimistic — which also helped keep symptoms of the disease in check for a long time.
Today my dad must use a wheelchair to get around, and no longer has much control over his major muscles. It’s hard to know what he’s thinking nowadays, as his ability to talk has degenerated. But it’s easy to see he hasn’t given up the fight yet. Just like many of the other ten million Parkinson’s sufferers worldwide.
Although there’s still no cure for Parkinson’s disease, scientists and researchers are working night and day to find one. Still researches have proven that physical therapy can help Parkinson’s patients to stop Parkinson’s progression, improve their mobility and quality of life. Companies like 9zest have developed apps for personalized Parkinson’s therapy to help PD patients to live better. If you would like to help, educate yourself about Parkinson’s and help people to deal with it better.
Photo by Son of Groucho