Linda Ronstadt announced to AARP that she has Parkinson’s–and can’t sing a note. Linda is the voice of my youth. I sang Desparado more times than I can count. You’re No Good, Don’t Know Much…and part of me is sad to think that this song bird is silenced. In the words of a fellow Parkinson’s thriver (he’s more than a survivor), Michael J. Fox, “Parkinson’s a disease that keeps on giving.”
We know that Parkinson’s causes hands to shake and feet to shuffle, but there’s a whole lot more going on. It’s a neurological disease that affects the brain and the nerves–and nerves serve as a highway that signal to the body its movements and function.
Parkinson’s is something that I know a thing or two about. My mother had PD (as she called it) for the last ten years of her life.
What is Parkinson’s?
Here’s a simple lay-person definition.
You get Parkinson’s when your brain doesn’t produce enough Dopamine, a chemical it needs to help the firing mechanism in your nerves. Without enough Dopamine your nerve endings don’t get the message of what to do. That causes all kinds of problems. Parkinson’s medication is mainly a synthetic type of Dopamine. It usually relieves the symptoms for a few hours but must be taken regularly. It never fully eliminates the problem, but it helps, and works best if taken on a regular schedule. Some days are better–or worse–than others. No real rhyme or reason…
According to Mayo Clinic Parkinson’s symptoms include:
Tremor. Usually it starts in a limb–and it starts at rest–a shaking leg, “pill rolling” rubbing your fingers together repetitively), head movement, knee bouncing.
Slowed movement (bradykinesia). Known as the Parkinson’s shuffle. Walking, getting out of a chair, cooking, dressing maneuvering across a room are all affected. Changes in flooring can virtually freeze a person with Parkinson’s since the brain is trying to process how to handle it–giving it another overwhelming task to perform.
Rigid muscles. Muscles become stiff and range of motion can be limited, so lifting your hands to put on a shirt can be difficult, or bending. Soreness can also accompany the stiffness since the muscles are working so hard and yet can do so little.
Impaired posture and balance. Your muscles are misfiring and grow rigid and this can lead to becoming stooped over. Balance is a HUGE problem with those who have Parkinson’s. Not only do they feel imbalanced, but because of their uncooperative and stiff muscles fall hazards are common. This can lead to needing someone in the home or traveling with the person with PD in order to prevent a devastating fall.
Loss of automatic movements. Known as the Parkinson’s mask, a person with Parkinson’s may lose their ability to blink, smile, use gestures when talking or show any emotion, which can affect their communication needs and relationships. They also might not swing their arms when they walk, which also causes an imbalance.
Speech changes. Many folks with Parkinson’s find that their voice grows softer. They may also slur, blurt or not be able to maintain a natural rhythm or tone to their speech, and they may lose their ability to sing and have a pitch to their voice.
Writing changes. Most folks with Parkinson’s find writing a challenge. Their handwriting grows smaller and eventually illegible.
Is there any good news?
Yes, there is!
I won’t kid you. This is one tough disease that affects every aspect of your life. It takes enormous fortitude and patience from you, the person with PD, and from your family members whose lives are also affected. You may (you will in time) have to give up driving, perhaps even cooking (how come they never recommend you give up cleaning?) and you may need help getting dressed, going to the doctor, and you might need to consider not living alone. All that is overwhelming, but I ask you to look for every possibility that some good can come out of this.
So, here’s the good news.
You need people. That’s a good thing. You get a buddy to hang out with. We need to be needed, so trust that whoever is in your life to help you is there for a reason, and that they’re getting something out of it, too.
You haven’t lost your sense of humor. If you have, go find it. It can get pretty darn hilarious trying to get your shirt on for 20 minutes only to find that you have it on backward and inside out–and you kind of like it that way!
Embrace the chaos. Curse, cry, scream, laugh it off. It’s your life, so hell, make the most of it.
And one good thing–you can dance.
I’m not kidding. Dancing, yoga, tai chi are all things you can do. Ironically, your brain can actually grab onto the flow of music and you can move with fluidity.
Let me tell you about Kate Kelsall. She’s a gal who has had Parkinson’s for over ten years now. She’s also a blogger and a wife and whole lot more. She got PD in her early 40s and her enthusiasm for life amazes me. Her blog is called Shake, Rattle, and Roll–and that’s just what she does.
Here’s a short note for Linda:
A few million of us are thinking of you today. If thoughts are a form of love, and I happen to believe they are, then a whole lotta love and support is coming your way.
Yes, your news makes us a bit nostalgic, but in our hearts, you’ll forever be our song bird.
So sing a new song. Dance, love the people who are in your circle, and open wide and let them love you back.