Michael J. Fox is candidly discussing his experience with living with Parkinson’s disease in his upcoming documentary, “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie.”
In a recent interview, he opened up about the challenges of navigating life with the disease, acknowledging that it’s becoming increasingly difficult.
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s getting harder,” he shared during an interview with CBS Sunday Morning. “It’s getting tougher. Every day gets tougher. But that’s the way it is. I mean, who do I see about that?”
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain disorder characterized by uncontrollable and unintended movements such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulties with balance and coordination, as per the National Institute on Aging (NIA). People with the condition may eventually experience difficulties in walking and talking, according to the NIA.
Fox, who is 61 years old, expressed his frustration with the disease, emphasizing that he’s now struggling more with tremors, slurred speech, muscle rigidity, jerks, and twists than he has in the past. He has also faced falls and broken bones.
The actor, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 29, underwent spinal surgery after doctors discovered a benign tumor in his spine that “messed up [his] walking.”
He explained further, “And then started to break stuff. Broke this arm, and I broke this arm, I broke this elbow. I broke my face. I broke my hand.”
Fox highlighted that falling poses a significant risk for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. “It’s falling and aspirating food and getting pneumonia,” he noted.
“All these subtle ways that get ya.’ You don’t die from Parkinson’s; you die with Parkinson’s. I’m not gonna be 80. I’m not gonna be 80.”
There is varying data on life expectancy with Parkinson’s disease. However, the journal Neurology states that many people can live nearly 15 more years after being diagnosed with the disease—an improvement from the previously estimated 9.4 years.
While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are medications like levodopa, which helps nerve cells produce more dopamine (dopamine decreases with the disease), according to the NIA. Patients may also be prescribed amantadine to reduce involuntary movements and anticholinergic drugs to alleviate tremors and muscle rigidity, the NIA adds.
Unfortunately, these treatments do not slow or halt the progression of the disease. “We have not yet been able to slow disease progression,” says Amit Sachdev, M.D., medical director for the Michigan State University Department of Neurology and an active investigator in several Parkinson’s Disease clinical trials. However, he adds, “We can mitigate the impact of the disease by treating symptoms.”
In the advanced stages of Parkinson’s, patients often face difficulties with balance, falling, and may require a walker or wheelchair, notes Melita Petrossian, M.D., a neurologist and director of the Pacific Movement Disorders Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. She also mentions that many advanced-stage patients with Parkinson’s experience dementia.
Physical therapy is crucial, along with speech therapy focusing on swallowing, Dr. Petrossian emphasizes. “There is a great deal of focus on swallowing and preventing aspiration,” she says. “I don’t think people are aware of the importance of swallow therapy.”
Despite his struggles, Fox remains optimistic. He acknowledges the challenges but also believes in the sustainability of optimism. “And if you can find something to be grateful for, then you can find something to look forward to, and you carry on,” he concludes.