Parkinson’s – that’s the one that Michael J Fox has got, right? It’s that one where you get the shakes? Well, yes and yes. But there is so much more to it than just shaking. It creeps up on you. Quite often you don’t even realise you have it until the symptoms get quite severe. My nan had Parkinson’s. By the time she was diagnosed with it, the doctors said she had probably had it for 10 years.
So, if it’s not just shaking, what else is it? Well for starters, it’s sometimes not even shaking. Not everyone with Parkinson’s develops tremors.
The condition is caused by a deterioration of the nerves that carry messages to the brain. Sufferers find that they slow down because it takes longer for the body to relay messages to and from the brain. They can be unsteady on their feet, stumbling around as if they are drunk. Sometimes they have a “freeze” – a bit like when your computer freezes – and their body just stops. There is no warning of this – they can be halfway up a flight of stairs and suddenly find themselves unable to move. It can stop their facial muscles working properly, stopping them frowning or smiling. They can have difficulties get into and out of a bath or shower. Dressing and undressing themselves can be a struggle until the time comes when they even need help to go to the toilet – robbing them of any dignity.
It doesn’t just affect their physical capabilities either. Parkinson’s makes thought processes take longer too. If you are talking to someone with this illness, you need to be patient. If they don’t reply straight away, they are not being ignorant. They need time to process what you have said, to formulate a reply and to get that reply from their thoughts to their voice. When they do speak, their speech may be slurred and difficult to understand.
And there are far more frightening symptoms even than being unable to move or think. Parkinson’s can also cause hallucinations. Parkinson’s sufferers are more likely to develop dementia. It can cause anxiety and depression. It can cause difficulty in eating or swallowing.
It’s a terrible illness. And yet we know so little about it, or why people develop it. At present it is incurable, although it can be treated. And even though 1 in 500 people have Parkinson’s (according to information on www.Parkinson’s.org.uk) it’s still an illness that too few people are aware of. This week is Parkinson’s Awareness Week. Please help raise awareness by reblogging this post, or by sharing the link on Facebook or Twitter, or just amongst your friends.
On behalf of everyone who has seen a loved one suffer from Parkinson’s – thank you.