With Shaking Hands: Aging with Parkinson's Disease in America's Heartland

With Shaking Hands: Aging with Parkinson's Disease in America's Heartland

With Shaking Hands: Aging with Parkinson's Disease in America's Heartland

With Shaking Hands: Aging with Parkinson's Disease in America's Heartland

Synopsis

Far from celebrity media spotlight, ordinary individuals, many older and less advantaged, suffer the disabling pain of Parkinson's disease (PD), an illness whose progressive symptoms often mimic old age and cause mobility impairment, communication barriers, and social isolation.

At the heart of With Shaking Hands is the account of elder Americans in rural Iowa who have been diagnosed with PD. With a focus on the impact of chronic illness on an aging population, Samantha Solimeo combines clear and accessible prose with qualitative and quantitative research to demonstrate how PD accelerates, mediates, and obscures patterns of aging. She explores how ideas of what to expect in older age influence and direct interpretations of one's body.

This sensitive and groundbreaking work unites theories of disease with modern conceptions of the body in biological and social terms. PD, like other chronic disorders, presents a special case of embodiment which challenge our thinking about how such diseases should be researched and how they are experienced.

Excerpt

Leroy and Kathryn live in a modest two-story home on the edge of one of Iowa’s few urban centers. They bought their home about forty years ago, shortly after they were married, when Leroy started work as a primary school teacher. Together, Leroy and Kathryn raised a small family and maintained active social lives in their faith and arts communities. Leroy was almost seventy years old when I first met him, and had had Parkinson’s disease (PD) for about six years. He was diagnosed just a few years after he retired, and his case had progressed from its simple presentation of fatigue and postural changes to a complex and disabling disorder. Despite his formidable and unpredictable impairments, Leroy maintains an optimistic and lighthearted outlook. As long as he is able to create art, read, attend the occasional play, and spend time with his wife, life with pd is for him a blessing.

Leroy’s first signs of pd appeared over a period of months, but because the symptoms emerged while he was undergoing treatment for vertigo, it was quite a while before he and his wife put the pieces together to realize that something was amiss. “Well, thinking back, you can kind of tell something was going wrong,” he says. “My first symptom, as far as the pd, was my posture. I had more difficulty standing straight; I was more slumped over. When I would write something, … I would start taking notes with a normal hand and by the time I got to the end they were so cramped you couldn’t read it. So this was the way it went, you know. I had so much saliva in my mouth, it would actually drool out. and this is because you don’t swallow as often as you should. and I was just constantly wore out, fatigued.” He stopped for a moment to take another dose of carbidopa-levodopa.

When Leroy’s symptoms first appeared, he didn’t think that anything serious was afoot. “I just thought … I was retired and maybe I was just … it was . . .

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