It’s Parkinson’s Awareness Month: How Michael J. Fox Is Forging Ahead

“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.”- Michael J. Fox

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, a good time to learn about the disease, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. In 1817, James Parkinson published “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy,” the first such recognition of a disease that eventually would be known by his name. This month marks the 267th anniversary of Parkinson’s discovery, and throughout the month, the Parkinson’s community has been working to raise awareness about the disease.

As many as one million people in the United States and an estimated 10 million people worldwide live with Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating degenerative disease that currently has no cure. We are familiar with many famous people who have Parkinson’s disease, including “Back to the Future” star Michael J. Fox.

How Michael J. Fox is Dealing with Parkinson’s — 30 Years After His Initial Diagnosis

Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 30 and has lived with it for half of his life. Now 60 years old, Fox continued working as an actor until 2020, when he retired due to the unreliability of his speech, increased memory problems, and motor skill issues.

Although his disease has advanced over the years, alongside other health issues, Fox remains upbeat and has gratitude. He says he is a “freak” for being able to fight off the disease for such a long time.

Fox, who has four children and has been happily married to his wife, Tracy Pollan, for 33 years, said: “If you don’t think you have anything to be grateful for, keep looking. Because you don’t just receive optimism. You can’t wait for things to be great and then be grateful for that. You’ve got to behave in a way that promotes that. Still, it’s hard to explain to people how lucky I am, because I also have Parkinson’s. Some days are a struggle. But the disease is this thing that’s attached to my life — it isn’t the driver.”

Talking about the progression of it, he said: “I reached the point where I couldn’t rely on my ability to speak on any given day, which meant I couldn’t act comfortably at all anymore.”

Fox recently revealed that “every step is now like a frigging math problem,” after enduring three decades with the nerve disease, the devastating effects of spinal surgery (for an unrelated tumor on his spine), and a subsequent fall where he had to have surgery on his arm. Though he’s raised more than $1 billion for research to stamp out Parkinson’s through his Michael J. Fox Foundation, the actor admits he likely won’t see the defeat of the illness. An insider confides “his balance is completely off because his muscles freeze up,” yet he still tries his best to remain positive and thankful for all he has and all he has accomplished to help others.

As he has demonstrated with his positive attitude, it is possible to continue an enjoyable quality of life with Parkinson’s for years after diagnosis. This, however, usually requires working closely with doctors, carefully following recommended therapies, taking your medication and adjusting it when needed, and making lifestyle adjustments.

Understanding Parkinson’s

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, which is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain, reducing the amount of dopamine in the brain. To live well with Parkinson’s disease, first you need to understand the disease.

While symptoms typically appear in later stages of the disease, certain signs may indicate that you may have Parkinson’s. Keep in mind that many of these could also indicate other health issues. Two of four main symptoms must be present over a period of time for a neurologist to consider a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis:

  1. Shaking or tremors while at rest.
  2. Slowness of movement, called bradykinesia.
  3. Stiffness or rigidity of the arms, legs, or hips that doesn’t go away as you move.
  4. Trouble with balance and possible falls.

Along with movement-related symptoms, other early non-motor signs include:

  • Change in handwriting—smaller letter sizes and crowded words.
  • Loss of smell.
  • Trouble sleeping, particularly quick, sudden jerks in lighter sleep.
  • Constipation.
  • Change in voice, becoming softer or hoarse sounding,
  • Masked face—developing a constant serious, depressed, or mad facial look.
  • Change in posture—stooping, leaning, or slouching when standing.

If You Think You Have Parkinson’s Disease

While Parkinson’s disease symptoms can mimic other conditions, it’s best to discuss these with your primary care physician. If there are serious concerns, you may need to see a neurologist. A neurologist has experience and specific training to assess and treat Parkinson’s disease. And then there are neurologists who further specialize in Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, who you should definitely see once you have a diagnosis of Parkinson’s.

What to Do If You Have Parkinson’s Disease

Treatments for Parkinson’s are based on individual symptoms, and they can include medication, surgery, therapy, and lifestyle modifications, such as getting more rest and exercise.

While many medications can improve disease symptoms, none can reverse its effects or halt disease progression. Patients are usually prescribed medications to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

Treatment also depends on how well patients cope with the diagnosis. The reaction to any serious illness can include denial, discouragement, and depression. The quicker patients shift their mental attitudes and make necessary lifestyle adjustments, the better their chances for leading productive lives despite the disease.

To live and cope with Parkinson’s disease, patients need to:

  • Communicate openly with family and friends.
  • Prioritize daily tasks and ask for help when necessary.
  • Exercise regularly to help manage stress, which worsens PD symptoms.
  • Seek professional help for depression, suicidal thoughts, and relationship conflicts.

Do You or a Loved One Suffer from Parkinson’s or Another Debilitating Disease?

If you or a loved one is suffering from Parkinson’s or dementia or another debilitating disease and is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please call the Farr Law Firm at one of the numbers below to make an appointment for an initial no-cost consultation, or sign up for one of our upcoming live webinars.

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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