Way back in the 1980s, I had the dream job of health and fitness editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. For as long as I can remember, I've been curious about all aspects of health, and that job gave me a reason to read and research publications that focus on how our bodies work.
Ever since then, I've been collecting books that are first-person stories about coping with accidents, illness or disease. Want to know what it's like to live with a facial deformity? Read "Autobiography of a Face" by Lucy Grealy. Wonder what it's like to experience chemotherapy? Read "Time on Fire" by Evan Handler. Are you curious about paralysis? "Still Me" by Christopher Reeve will answer all your questions.
I could make book recommendations all day, but two books have caught my attention recently because they both deal with Parkinson's disease — in different ways. Back in 2003, Michael J. Fox wrote (by hand on yellow legal pads) one of the finest memoirs I've ever read. "Lucky Man" takes the reader into the world of a young (and very successful) actor who is diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's and learns how to restructure every single aspect of his life. As of this date, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research has raised more than $750 million for research. Against all odds, his career is still alive and well, and fans will be able to watch him on ABC's "Designated Survivor" this spring.
The other book that made me think about the effects of Parkinson's disease is NPR's Diane Rehm's 2016 memoir "On My Own," which deals with her late husband's struggles and eventual death. Her brilliant and accomplished husband, John Rehm, simply could not cope with the gradual losses that followed his diagnosis, and she also had to find ways to reconstruct her life.
Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to progressive deterioration of motor function. Life expectancy after diagnosis is about the same as for people without the disease. The stages of Parkinson's are listed below:
—Stage one: Mild symptoms (tremors or swinging arms while walking) occur on one side of the body and do not interfere with daily activities.
—Stage two: Walking becomes more difficult, and both sides of the body are affected.
—Stage three: Abilities become more compromised, including loss of balance and slowing of movement.
—Stage four: Symptoms become more severe; assistance is required; and the individual can no longer live alone.
—Stage five: A caregiver is needed for all activities. The individual probably cannot stand or walk, may be bedridden and may have either delusions or hallucinations.
Several institutions — including the Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus — have begun studying the impact of exercise on individuals recently diagnosed with Parkinson's.
The good news, according to an article in the JAMA Neurology journal, is that intense treadmill exercise tends to slow the progression of the disease. Why? Evidently, high-intensity exercise improves brain vascularity and neuronal blood supply. So, if you have just been diagnosed with Parkinson's (or someone you know has), intense aerobic exercise is well worth considering along with other treatment options.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.