For anyone that might not be aware Parkinson’s Disease is a long-term neurological condition that affects the way the brain co-ordinates body movements including walking, talking and writing and it affects both men and women. It is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. The nerve cells in this part of the brain are responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine acts as a messenger between the brain and the nervous system and helps control and co-ordinate body movements. If these nerve cells become damaged or die then the amount of dopamine in the brain is reduced. This means that the part of the brain that controls movement cannot work as well as it should and this in turn causes movements to become slow and abnormal. They can cause the sufferer to have a tremor or stiffness that makes it frustrating and eventually impossible to do everyday activities such as eating, smiling, getting dressed or driving.
Parkinson’s doesn’t just affect movement however. Other symptoms can result. These can include tiredness, pain, depression, constipation and weight loss and can all have a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of people with the condition and to make life even more challenging, people with Parkinson’s never know when the next bout of symptoms will hit. This makes being out in public and socialising a daunting experience and the subsequent stress and anxiety ultimately makes the condition worse.
The following photographs are of Dave Forsyth. He has suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for many years. He is also my father and he died just before Christmas.
Over recent months his health had gradually and inevitably been deteriorating. Along with the endless tablets consumed daily and the inherent side effects that come with some of those tablets the disease itself was making things increasingly difficult. Not just for him but for both my parents. However if this medication wasn’t taken at the right time then the swift onset of the violent tremors that are a major effect of the disease quickly occurred and any periods of lucidity became mixed with confused ramblings and difficulties with carrying out even the most basic of activities.
A noticeable sign of his struggle with the tremors was the way he used to hold his right hand – the worst one for tremors – with his left hand or by keeping it in his pocket to try and keep the tremors from becoming too obvious although as the condition gradually became worse he stopped doing this as much. Irregular sleep patterns, frequent toilet needs, uncontrollable and violent tremors, lack of general mobility and balance and at times hallucinations and confusion caused by the medication were just some of the issues that had be dealt with each day and meant that it became a difficult task for my mother to ensure all the usual household needs were carried out whilst still maintaining care levels for my father. The demands of which were becoming greater each week.
After taking his medication there were times of great awareness from my father who could recall small details from years ago. At times his dry sense of humour was evident and he would occasionally look back fondly over his collection of Rupert the Bear annuals that he’d collected for years – although the reason for suddenly wondering off in the first place and returning with the annuals was unclear and must I imagine have had something to do with the effects of the disease or the medication. Occasionally he would visit the local pub to watch the football. He supported Newcastle and Arsenal! He attended a local day centre a couple of days days each week for a bit of a break and distraction – for both him and for my mother – on rare occasions he still enjoyed pottering in the garden and continued to try and do a few of the general household chores and requirements. But these were becoming less frequent.
As the condition became worse his speech suffered and became a slow quiet mumbling which made communicating with him difficult. There were plans initially for him to see a specialised speech therapist but this didn’t happen because his concentration span had deteriorated to such a degree that he would have struggled to get any benefit from it. He now suffered from Dementia. Over more recent months my mother had to put him into a care home for further ‘respite’ breaks. Each visit afforded them both but especially my mother whose own health was starting to suffer, the chance to take a breather and to have at least a few days away from the constant care that was now a requirement.
Towards the end of November my father was taken from the care home into hospital and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Becoming more frail he had now lost the use of his legs and was unable to leave his bed. He now suffered significant weight loss despite efforts to maintain his diet. After a couple of days the pneumonia had cleared up enough to allow him to be moved back to the care home where he was visited by friends and family and of course by my mother who spent each day with him.
However this was only for the shortest of times and after a few days of being there he died in the early hours of December 4th. His funeral was held at Durham crematorium and was very well attended by family and friends who had known him across the years.
In a way the service was similar to my father – a straight forward event without many frills, a gentle and quiet occasion with a good amount of humour.
There was some music played by some of his favourites….a bit of Johnny Cash during the service and then at the end from the 1953 musical ‘Calamity Jane‘ and a song by one of his lifelong favourites – Doris Day……. ‘ The Deadwood Stage ‘.
He’d have appreciated that.
Standing in the garden.
The front room sitting in his favourite armchair.
Part of my fathers collection of Royal tea caddies, tea pots and other assorted porcelain that he has collected over the years.
Housebound for much of the time the comings and goings on the street outside offer subjects for discussion and help to pass the time.
Wedding Day picture.
Resting on a bed during one of the stays in the care home.
Reading part of his Rupert the Bear annual collection that he has had since he was a youngster.
Due to the effects of some of the medication my father hallucinates thinking he can see someone in the next room.
At times he maintained his dry sense of humour.
Sleeping on a chair in his room in the care home.
My mother changes the dressing on pressure sores on his back.
Medication is given to my father as he sits on his arm chair in the front room.
My father needed to be fed with special food thickener due to the difficulties and risks involved with swallowing.
Resting back in the care home with my mother watching over him – This is the last picture before he died.
Flowers and sympathy cards arrived from many of those who had known him over the years.
In memory of David Thomas Forsyth
23rd November 1939 to 4th December 2014
Learn more about Parkinson’s Disease… HERE on the Parkinson’s UK website.
See more of my work on my website and blogs via the link: HERE
All images remain copyright Ian Forsyth.
No usage without arrangement.