Parkinson’s disease (PD) is known to affect the memory of some sufferers, although not of everyone. My personal logic is that if I am to be one of the PD patients who is not affected then I have to try shortening the odds. My theory is that because not all suffer memory problems, perhaps there are manageable variables for this potential PD symptom. My strategy is simple: use it or risk losing it. As my illness has progressed over the past 10 years I have mentally pushed myself by reading more, doing crosswords, Sudoku puzzles, and engaging in newspaper and pub quizzes. My wife and I even have a mini competition between us to see who can answer the most questions when watching TV quizzes like University Challenge and Mastermind. I hold my own with her on Mastermind but rarely win on University challenge (too many cultural questions!). However, I have significantly improved on all these puzzles and quizzes over the past 10 years and it appears that rather than my memory getting worse, as could be reasonably expected at 59 years of age, it is actually getting better.
Since I embarked on a degree in History and English at our local college last September, my memory and ability to apply logic to work out an answer or analyse a problem have increased enormously. This isn’t just my hopeful self-assessment but the general opinion of all those around me. One good example is the Saturday general knowledge crossword and general knowledge quiz in the Daily Telegraph newspaper that my wife and I attempt together most weekends. We have never managed to complete it but since I started the degree my contribution has easily doubled. This is not only due to my ability to answer questions related to my college work, but also my ability to access the data hiding in my brain across a whole range of subjects. Stuff is coming out that I didn’t know was even hiding there! Last weekend we almost completed the general knowledge crossword without resorting to the aid of internet search engines. We only had to cheat on about six clues. My assignment marks to date on my degree have also far exceeded my expectations. I keep expecting the bubble to burst but just maybe if I keep pushing myself I will be not only be able to cope with the course, but I will keep PD-induced memory loss at bay.
The Pulizer prize winning columnist Mary Theresa Schmich wrote a much quoted article in the Chicago Tribune in 1997 which was later popularised by Australian film director Baz Luhrmann on a record he released called ‘Everybody is free to wear sunscreen’. The narrative is full of witty, worldly wise advice to the youth of today, including a line that has always stayed with me since I first heard it, ‘Do one thing every day that scares you’. I don’t think Schmich meant free fall parachute jumping or wrestling crocodiles, she was more likely alluding to the need to push ourselves to enjoy life to the full and stretch ourselves to get the best out of our lives. Going to college after nearly 40 years away from academic study and suffering from PD certainly scared me and each new assignment at college scares me too until I get the results. However, in pursuit of protecting my memory it is a fear worth enduring. I guess it is similar to the old saying ‘if it is worth having it is worth fighting for’, and my memory and memories are certainly worth fighting for.
Having said all that our team at the weekly pub quiz continues to regularly secure the runner-up position despite often leading at the half way stage, but we will fight on as long as we continue to believe that a win is worth having!
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.