As I creep closer to fifty I’m starting to think a bit more about aging. Frankly, I think I’ve aged pretty well (give or take a few crows feet). When I do think about aging, I tend to look to my parents. My mom and dad are 82 and 85 years old respectively. My dad has never let anything slow him down. Ever. My mom has slowed down a lot. She hasn’t had a choice. She has Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system with the most common symptoms being motor related. Shaking, rigidity, slowness and difficult walking. She is fighting it every step of the way but inevitably the disease progresses and life has to change.
She was diagnosed about 15 years ago, but honestly, it hasn’t been until the last two or three years that it has seriously affected her day to day life. At the beginning, the only noticeable symptom was a slight tremor in her left hand. When she originally told us I didn’t know much about the disease. All I could picture was Michael J. Fox, who I had seen interviewed on TV, who sometimes couldn’t control the tremors in his body, jerked violently and occasionally found it difficult to get a full sentence out. I was a bit freaked out. Fortunately, her symptoms were nothing like that. For a long time, to look at her, you wouldn’t even know she was sick. For many years she has been able to carry on with no noticeable changes to her life.
Lately, though, I’ve noticed things have changed. A few month ago she was involved in a small car accident. My mom is no stranger to hitting things in her car but it has been mostly light poles and parking lot walls. There wasn’t much damage, nobody was hurt, but it was very obviously her fault. It was raining and there was a lot of traffic around. Her reactions are just not what they used to be. Fortunately, I happened to be driving by at the time and was able to help her with calling a tow truck and dealing with the other driver. She was a bit shaken and I’m pretty sure having me there was a huge help. Her biggest worry? ICBC might force her to take a road test. Losing her license would mean losing her freedom.
In the last three months she has needed to change from using a cane to using a walker. It may not seem like a big change to you and me, but to her it has been a huge adjustment. There have been a few falls leaving her bruised and sore so it really needed to be done. She had been using the cane to stand with both hands in front of her and her feet wide apart. Like a precarious tripod. We have always teased my mom that she was a bit like a weeble. You know, they wobble but they don’t fall down. Yes, it was kind of mean but she knew we were only joking and really she knew it was true. Mom wasn’t the most stable person to start with.
My mom was always active when we were younger. As a family we hiked, camped and skied a lot. Fitness wasn’t really a priority in the 70’s but I remember mom going to a fitness class at the local Y when I was little. Now she has a Life Call necklace that she wears all the time. It alerts a call board of she falls over. I know that she gets scared sometimes. She’s gotten better at asking for help. She’s come to the realization that there are some things she just can’t do. The biggest thing she now knows is that she can’t push herself. She has to make sure she is well rested to avoid the risk of injury.
So here I sit. An active, almost fifty year old, with some extra time on my hands (given that the current teacher’s strike ends soon). For too many years I have THOUGHT about getting involved in the Parkinson’s Society. Work, kids, life…….excuses really. No more. My mission for this Fall is to find a way to give some time and energy to help people with Parkinson’s. To try and find a way to help people with Parkinson’s that maybe haven’t been as fortune as my mom. And who knows, maybe they will find a way to ease my mom’s symptoms too. The Best Thing in Life is being able to make a difference in something that matters to you, personally.