I will freely admit that the thing that scares me the most about Parkinson’s is the possibility of dementia. I did a five-minute Google search on my odds, which mostly showed (once again) that you should be cautious using the Internet for medical information. Depending on what site you pick, the probability of getting dementia ranges from 50-80% of Parkinson’s people (yikes!) to 20% (better….) to 0.2-0.5% (whew…much better).
What does dementia have to do with the nice man pictured in this blog? Mercifully, nothing. That’s why Rev. C. Leon Hopper, Jr. is Laura’s new hero. Leon is about to celebrate his 88th birthday, and has displayed PD symptoms for over 20 years, but he is still sharp as the proverbial tack. This retired minister was still writing homilies as recently as 2007, and presently enjoys writing stories for his grandchildren.
Leon was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002, but his wife Dorothy had noticed symptoms as long as 15 years before that. She had noticed that his steps were getting shorter and his gait was becoming stiff. Leon had some friends with Parkinson’s so he had observed the symptoms they displayed. He became suspicious that he might have PD when he noticed his left arm did not swing when he walked and that his wrists were less flexible. His general doctor didn’t think Leon had PD (he never had any tremors), but as the symptoms grew worse, Leon eventually went to a neurologist. The neurologist took a video of Leon walking, and the stiff gait so characteristic of PD was obvious. (This is exactly what my neurologist did with me, using his smart phone!)
I asked Leon about his reaction to the PD diagnosis. He was relieved — his suspicions over several years were finally confirmed. He had no hesitation about going public with the news. Rev. Hopper had retired from the ministry in 1992, ten years before the diagnosis, but was still active in church affairs. I wondered if his long career as a minister helped him in responding to the PD diagnosis. He told me, “My experience in life helped shape my reaction. That (diagnosis) was part of life. Life is a mystery — Parkinson’s is a mystery.”
Although Leon does not have dementia, he recognizes that he has had cognitive impairment from PD. “I used to do a lot of things at the same time, ” he said. “I’m slower to get things done and organize things.” I too feel like I can no longer multi-task efficiently — and I don’t have the excuse like Leon does of being almost 88.
What advice does Leon have for others with Parkinson? If you will pardon the pun, he’s “gotten religion” about exercise. He’s always been an avid outdoorsman, backpacking into his early 70s (“but I cut back to only three days at a time”) and hiking until 6 or 7 years ago. Now he uses a walker and walks up and down the hall with someone accompanying him. A few years back, he took the BIG exercise program (a special exercise regimen for PD patients) and went through the drill twice a day. This has now become too much, but he still takes a seated exercise program three times a week.
Leon also suggests to other Parkis to “read as much as you can, to know what might happen (but not necessarily will happen).” Most importantly, Leon says to keep a positive attitude. He said, “I choose to be positive about my life.” He told me, with a twinkle in his eye, “If I’m lively, more people will come to visit me.”