Zoe talks about her relationship with her grandad and how Parkinson’s affected both their lives.
“Will you stop shaking,” my grandad says, as he stares at his hand while trying to steady the tremoring palm on his armchair. I hadn’t even noticed his hand was shaking at all.
When visiting my grandad as a child he would either be typing away on his computer, painting, or fixing some electrical device. My grandad is the most intelligent person I know. He worked in the RAF in his late teens, then went on to work for electrical companies fixing machines and technical equipment.
Every time I went round to see him, various electric paraphernalia would be lined up the stairs ‒ you would have to dodge at least a TV sitting on the floor before you made it into the living room.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s over 10 years ago, when I was 12 years old. Grandad just seemed a bit slower than usual and he had a slight tremor in his left hand. It remained like this for a few years. As time went on, the tremor got worse and rather than a slight wobble, his hand would shake significantly.
Other than the tremor, I never really noticed any other symptoms. Yes, my grandad was walking slowly and was a little off balance, but no more than any other man his age (he was in his late 70s at this point).
Getting harder to witness
As I grew older and time went on, it became harder for me to witness the effects of the condition. The tremor now affected both hands and he became progressively less mobile. I specifically remember one day my grandad was holding his prescription at the chemist and his hand was shaking so violently the paper was rustling loudly, drawing attention to him. I saw the stress on my grandad’s face having no control over over it.
I have researched and studied things about the condition at university to help me understand things more, particularly on the problems it causes with communication and speech.
Since living in a care home and with the support of professionals, my grandad’s movement has improved. I think this is because he has been so determined to walk again. When I visited and saw him get up and walk towards me, it made my heart fill with pride. I was able to give him a proper hug for the first time in years.
I don’t care that my Grandad has Parkinson’s. It shouldn’t define you.
Defining my grandad
For me the hardest part of my grandad having Parkinson’s isn’t to do with the condition itself. I can cope with the fact that he gets a bit forgetful, or that he can’t really walk very far. But I do find it hard to see him no longer able to do the things he loves. I try and find ways to help him stay engaged. He can no longer paint but he can listen to the radio, which reminds him of his days working in the RAF, which he loved.
But the thing I find most upsetting it that my grandad is embarrassed of his Parkinson’s. I have seen my strong, intelligent and sociable grandad no longer leave the house for fear of how people will look at him.
I don’t care that my grandad has Parkinson’s. It shouldn’t define you – it definitely is not how I define him. His long term memory is intact and whenever I see him I get him to tell me the story of how he met my nan – a story I will never tire of hearing. I will always cherish the stories my grandad had told me, the amazing things he has taught me and the love he has shown me – Parkinson’s will never have an effect on that.