By Kaye Swain
When my senior dad was in his fifties, he learned he was in the early stages of Parkinsons Disease. I still remember the shock I felt when he and my mom told me about it. It would have been so easy for him to just sit in a chair and allow depression to take over, as a friend of ours did.
My senior dad chose, instead, to follow the instructions of his doctor by proactively staying physically active. He continued golfing until the last couple of years of his life. I'm sure it wasn't easy for him to do that as his hand shaking got progressively worse. But he loved golf and he loved being able to keep moving, and he made the commitment to keep doing it.
He also walked several miles every day! When I would go visit, we would walk together and I was always astounded at how far he would walk. For ten years they were able to live in a retirement area with perpetual spring temperatures so they were able to walk outside all year long.
Eventually, his symptoms progressed enough that he and my mom decided to move near me. I lived in a great climate but had plenty of cold and rainy days in the winter. The brand new mall in the area followed the great example of so many other malls and opened their doors early, welcoming seniors, young moms and everyone in between to come walk in the mall. On cold or wet days, they would go over and walk together. About two years after they moved, his Parkinsons disease symptoms got much worse and he had to start using a rollator for about a year. He fought that off as long as he could, but once he had to use it, he made the most of it! You should have seen him tootling around that mall slowly, with the moms and their jogging strollers passing us right and left!
It wasn't until the last few months of his life, when he reached end stage Parkinsons Disease, that his body finally made him give up even this activity and he had to turn to a wheelchair. Even then, he continued to stay as active as he could by "walking around the house" with his feet while in the wheelchair. And the sweet family memories of him carrying his young great-grandchild on his lap just puts such a big smile on my face.
All that regular and consistent exercise was excellent for him, kept him moving and active for a good twenty years after he first got his diagnosis, and helped tremendously to keep his spirits up. It wasn't always easy or convenient to help my parents get to the mall regularly. But it was well worth it, knowing what a positive impact it made on his ability to stay active and alert for so long.
Now my senior mom walks around our neighborhood regularly - sometimes two or three times a day, and I go with her as often as my schedule permits. She saw what a tremendous impact it made in my dad's life and she plans to keep following that great example, as do I. Both of us learned, from his wonderful and inspirational example, that staying active no matter how hard or embarrassing it may be, is crucial to a higher quality of life as we age. And it's so important for us to come along side our senior parents, whenever possible, to help them achieve this goal.
Kaye Swain is a member of the Sandwich Generation dealing with the
issues of caring for the elderly parents and relatives in her family
while also babysitting grandchildren. She enjoys writing on those
topics at SandwichINK, in order to provide other multigenerational
caregivers with useful information, resources and encouragement.