Thomas Graboys – Life in the Balance

Early onset Parkinson’s disease can not only be a disaster for mobility and movement control; it can also be a part of progressive cognitive decline. The Lewy-body dementia experienced by some people with Parkinson’s is a heart-rending progressive loss of cognitive abilities, akin to Alzheimer’s disease, although due to a different protein pathology. For many people with Parkinson’s this cognitive loss threatens a greater loss of control than their loss of movement. In Life in the Balance cardiologist Thomas Graboys expresses his fear about such loss of control with an arresting honesty. For him, ‘dementia is by far the most … Read more...

Jon Palfreman – Brain Storms

Parkinson’s Disease is much more than a simple motor disorder that causes tremor, stiffness and difficulties in initiating movements. Fifty years ago Oliver Sacks observed many of the non-motor symptoms in his ‘sleepy sickness’ patients (and recorded them in Awakenings). Since then there have been considerable advances in knowledge about PD. Most of Jon Palfreman’s book is about these advances, rather than a simple memoir of his own experience of Parkinson’s. In this regard his memoir echoes the many other books which incorporate an investigation of a condition alongside personal reminiscence. Examples are Sutherland’s Breakdown, Wolpert’s Malignant Read more...

Robin Morgan – No Signs of Struggle

Robin Morgan is a poet, and she happens to have Parkinson’s Disease.

In her poem ‘No Signs of Struggle’ she describes how PD causes many aspects of life to get smaller – posture, gesture, speed of movement, handwriting, even facial expression. She feels it, and she sees it in her clinic companions.

But her poem also expresses a sense of something beautiful: because someone with Parkinson’s Disease needs to concentrate so intently to achieve each and every movement that was previously automatic, and this in turn entails a mindful being in the present which was previously impossible in the daily … Read more...

Frank Ormsby’s Parkinson’s

Belfast poet Frank Ormsby is interviewed about his experience of Parkinson’s Disease. Gentle, downbeat and precise in his speech, he describes the tremor in his hand, and how it varies during his moods or with stress. He is humorous too, telling jokes against himself and his Parkinson’s walk, and recalling Billy Connolly jokes about his PD.
The time to undo parcels or tie his laces is expanding. He can no longer drive. And this causes a separation between him and those people who are moved to offer help. He experiences visual hallucinations that people the corner of his field of … Read more...

Oliver Sacks – Awakenings

This is an early classic of the ‘illness narrative’ literature, albeit one written by a clinician. Twenty detailed case studies form the central section of this book, describing the use in the late 1960s of a new miracle drug for people with post-encephalitic Parkinsonism. But these are not dry clinical case studies in which signs and symptoms are listed and described, and then synthesised to form predicted rules of human response to a drug. Instead, the case studies are rich descriptions of historical people, whose words, individuality and priorities colour the pages. Sacks paints the manifold presentations of the ‘sleepy … Read more...

Michael J. Fox – Lucky Man: a memoir

Michael J. Fox was the star of the Back To The Future films and of American sit-com All In the Family. His memoir starts with the moment he becomes aware of the tremor in his little finger that is the first sign of Young-Onset Parkinson’s Disease, and his book tells the story of his struggles with PD even as it also tells the story of a film-star. Some readers I know could not cope with the Hollywood/TV star aspect of his story. However, the public nature of his career in part explains his struggles with the diagnosis and his … Read more...