Retirement and Parkinson’s Disease

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

By Craig B. Little, SUNY College at Cortland –

When I retired in 2016, I never foresaw what was ahead for me. Like most faculty, I imagined an extended period of leisure and travel unencumbered with daily responsibilities. I think it began after my wife, Elaine, and I concluded my dream trip to Scandinavia when my Lucy, a dog who had been by my side for thirteen years (even in my office), become ill and had to be euthanized. I then became depressed as I never had been before. 

It was about a year later when I really knew something was something amiss. I recall a conversation with my wife and my daughter in our kitchen when I said that I wouldn’t be able to do things I had done in the past, not because I didn’t want to, but I simply couldn’t. I knew that there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t know what. In a subsequent appointment with my general practitioner, she recommended that I see a neurologist. I met with him in August of 2019 when he told me and my wife who was with me that I might have Parkinson’s Disease and that it was progressive and incurable. I took this news as a shock, but after I had experienced PD for a while led me to view it as a form of speeded up aging whose progression, at least, I could partly control. I went through a series of tests and scans to rule out any alternative and was formally diagnosed as having PD in the Spring of 2020. In 2021 I went to Upstate Medical Center for a second opinion, and had the previous diagnosis confirmed. 

The diagnosis was, oddly enough, a bit of a relief because it explained many of my behaviors and feelings before that time. I decided that I was going to arrest the disease’s development as much as possible and quickly learned that exercise was the key. I eagerly did Tai Chi, physical therapy (PT), Rock Steady Boxing, speech therapy, walking, and taking a course at our local YWCA called stability. All with the help and encouragement of my wife, and now care partner, Elaine, who put many miles on her car driving me to these activities. She understandably didn’t want me to hurt myself or somebody else with my questionable driving.

There were, of course, negative aspects to these arrangements. When I gave up driving, I also lost the independence that many people experience later in life. The exercise programs that I engaged in took enormous amounts of time and energy, which add to the tiredness and tendency to fall asleep at inappropriate times during the day and evening, a common symptom of PD. I began to stumble and fall far more frequently than someone my age should. Emotionally, I have started to have occasional outbursts of anger (quite unlike my behavior in the past) that I am exploring with the help of my psychologist.

However, there have been positives. I have already mentioned how the diagnosis of PD explained to me (and others) many of the behaviors I had been exhibiting for some time. I regularly see my neurologist, and he has tested me to be sure I was not suffering from dementia—a feeling I had been having because

the symptoms of the PD for me have included loss of volume of speech and cognitive acuity—characteristics that are especially threatening to a person whose career was as a teaching academic. My trembling remains very slight although that is the behavior most associated with PD. I have also made friends through support groups that I probably would never have known otherwise. I have learned to be more patient because nearly everything—from getting dressed to eating a meal—must be done with INTENT, doing but one thing at a time, not multitasking, as I had often done before. In general, I have slowed down considerably which, if you “go with it”, can give you a fresh perspective and experience of things like nature that you never took the time to notice before.

These are some of the things that I have experienced having been diagnosed with PD about three years ago and it is important to note that different people may have different symptoms. As I have heard many times,” Once you have seen one person with PD, you have seen one person with PD.”