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Parkinson’s Disease Hits Home for Millions of Families—One in Particular

Parkinson’s disease is known in the medical field as a degenerative brain condition that occurs when the brain stops producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. As the supply of dopamine tapers off, a person progressively presents the following symptoms:

  • Impeded posture and balance
  • Increased difficulty speaking
  • Loss of unconscious movement (e.g., blinking, smiling, swinging arms when walking)
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia)
  • Tremors in the hands and limbs

Again, that’s how the medical field views Parkinson’s. My family sees it differently. We see it as the disease that is slowly taking away my grandma.

My grandmother, lovingly referred to as Ma Jo (short for Josephine), has always been the foundation of our family. Though short in stature, she has a tall presence. Soft-spoken, kind and patient, she captivates her audience with varying interests. She is a woman who has seen and done so many fascinating things. Some of those include being a news reporter, an excellent cook, an employee of the USGA, a travel agent, a feed truck driver and even a college student into her 70s.

Her constant drive and curiosity is something that I have always respected. As a child, I was always amazed by her accomplishments and her incessant motivation to keep moving and learning. But, all that changed in 2013 when Ma Jo’s vigor and physical skills began to decline.

After a visit to a neurologist, her doctor discovered that she had Parkinson’s disease. At first, there wasn’t much of a difference in her daily routine. She still went about her days doing all the things she liked to do – cooking, visiting friends, taking classes and spoiling her grandchildren.

As years went on, however, the symptoms grew more and more noticeable. Many of the things she had once loved doing began to fade with the onset of her condition. Cooking became less frequent due to the tremors in her hands. She could no longer take classes because memorization proved more difficult. Even seeing her friends became a challenge as driving was no longer an option.

Eventually, my grandmother had to move in with my mother and father. This way, she could still do the things that she was able to in a safe environment with the ability to have close-by assistance.

Although Ma Jo’s symptoms continue to progress, they have not slowed her spirit. She remains inquisitive, somewhat mobile and enjoys time with her first great-grandson.

It’s been a bittersweet ride for my family and me. She’s a tough lady, and she holds strong to the essence of who she is. In a way, her fight makes me admire her more. But, I’m angry that she has to fight at all.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF), nearly one million Americans are currently living with the disease and join Ma Jo in her fight. With such a large number of people affected, it’s vital to learn as much as we possibly can to combat this disease. Visit the National Parkinson’s Foundation’s website to find out more about Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Giving a little bit or learning a little more could be the difference in finding the cure for Ma Jo and her one million friends.