My sister recently stumbled across a website that detailed the family tree on our mother’s side of the family, going back to the 16th century. Our mother was born in 1931 in an area in the east of England known as the Fens, where her family have been traced back on this website to 1572. The Fens is a very rural, low lying, flat and open countryside but also has extensive drainage, with peat based soil, and is therefore ideal for arable farming. Consequently, the majority of the population in the Fens worked on farms up until around the early 1960s. Schooling was limited and in some cases impossible to access and, having had no formal education at all, my grandfather could not read or write. Families were typically much larger than they are now and my great, great, great grandfather had 15 children. Wages were very low in these remote rural areas, so these large families would almost certainly have been very poor. My ancestors, on my mother’s side of the family, nearly all lived and worked on arable farms going back at least 450 years. Interestingly, despite the hardness of the lifestyle, my grandfather worked dawn to dusk 7 days a week, and the typical age at death was early seventies. Mortality was poor in childhood but most of those who got past their late teens made it to their seventies. Now bearing in mind that there was no really effective medication for controlling the Parkinson’s disease symptoms until about 50 years ago, the mortality data suggests that Parkinson’s disease (PD) was not prevalent, at least on my mother’s side of the family. It would also suggest that critical illnesses in general were not a major problem for my mother’s adult ancestors in the Fens. I am not sure what this unscientific assessment may be telling me, if anything, but it is interesting to speculate on the differences between then and now: less pollution, maybe even none; chemical-free farming; a very physical and rigorous work life; organic food; supportive close communities; maybe an inbred stronger constitution. Anyway, whatever it was, if I could find it and bottle it I would be a very popular boy in the modern PD world!
One thing is certain and that is that if any of my fenland ancestors did have PD they would not have been working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week on farms and in the fields. A few people with PD can sustain a very physical lifestyle, especially when they first start taking PD medication, but most cannot. For most people with PD, fatigue is a considerable and ever lurking problem. Fatigue is certainly a major issue for me and has been from the start of my PD, but as the years have passed the wearing off of my PD medication has also added to my fatigue episodes so getting my PD medication right is crucial to the quality of my life. I wonder if fenland peat is neuroprotective? Maybe I should try mud baths rather than massages!
My college studies on my English and History degree course are still going well, although I am definitely starting to feel the pressure now with six essays, two exams and one group presentation to complete before my first year concludes in only 6 college weeks time. But then I will get 4 months, college free, until the second year starts in mid-September. That will hopefully be enough time to recharge my PD damaged batteries. I also have a 12 day Baltic cruise to look forward to in July.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in February 2004 at the age of 51 having experienced undiagnosed symptoms for at least 4 years prior to that. My wife and I have five adult children and three grandchildren. We are fortunate in that we live in a lovely rural part of the east of England, with King’s Forest situated nearby for my much needed, therapeutic dog walks. I spent most of my working life involved in electronic, mechanical manufacturing management within the Worldwide Broadcasting industry and I am extremely lucky to have travelled extensively through my work. Since I was diagnosed I have dedicated much of my time to researching all aspects of PD and trying to both support others with this illness and raise the profile of PD. As well as writing a blog on this website, I administer an internet patient forum for people with PD which I set up in September 2008 and it currently has over 150 members. I also administer the forum’s Facebook, Friends Reunited and Twitter pages. My younger son recently ran in a half marathon race to raise funds for the Cure Parkinson’s Trust. I am currently studying for a BA (Hons) in English and History as a mature student.