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It’s National Parkinson’s Awareness Month. So Where’s the “Awareness”?

Posted Apr 22 2010 11:17am

April is National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month.  So, why the lack of media stories about Parkinson’s?  Where’s the “awareness”?  Why are my fellow activist Parkies being met with blank faces and silence when they contact their local media outlets asking for a story, a feature, a report of SOME kind about Parkinson’s disease?

My cynical opinion?

We don’t have a “sexy” disease.  There’s nothing attractive about Parkinson’s.  We drool, we shake, we walk very slowly, we fall, we break our hips, we get pneumonia, we die.  If this started happening to 20-year olds on a regular basis, you damn BETCHA it would start getting some serious media attention.

But Parkinson’s is typically a disease of aging.  It doesn’t have the devastating quality of Alzheimer’s where we keep our bodies but lose our minds.  We keep our minds but lose our bodies.

For years, the trembling, shuffling, drooling old person has been a staple of comedy.  Remember Tim Conway on Carol Burnett?

Now, is that character demonstrating anything BUT Parkinson’s?

We just don’t have an ATTRACTIVE disease.  The money demo in the TV world is the 25-40 year old group.  Testing shows that these younger folks don’t really like looking at older people anyway.  Add some drool, some shaking, some shuffling, some slurred speech, and you have a real tune-out factor with these folks.

We’re just not CUTE enough.  Since this disease typically strikes after age 50, it’s rough for Jerry Lewis to hold a telethon to get folks to cough up cash because they feel sorry for us.  The typical, ill-informed reaction to someone with PD is NOT, “Oh, that person is sick.  I want to do something to help.”  The reaction is, “Oh, that’s an old person.  I hope I don’t get like that when I’m old.”

We’re just not TRAGIC enough… like a celebrity who jumps a horse over a hedge, falls and breaks his neck.  We have our examples, of course, with young, vibrant, tragic Michael J. Fox.  And we all know that Muhammad Ali no longer floats nor stings.  And then, there’s NBA star Brian Grant, but he hasn’t really shown any signs of the disease yet.   But we also have Janet Reno, who is still joke-fodder for the right wing.  We have Yassar Arafat, a dead terrorist.  We have Billy Graham.  Old.  We had Pope John Paul II.  Old.  We had Adolf Hitler.  Evil.  So MJF carries the celebrity load, the “Champ” does what he can, and Brian Grant is just getting into the act.  We don’t have anyone from “Twilight” coming down with PD.  No one from “Avatar.”  No one from “30 Rock.”

Our shaking, drooling, shuffling, slurring, pooping and peeing ourselves, choking on food and drink, falling and slowness is seen by the uninformed as just a natural part of getting older.

Now, if we had a RESPONSIBLE media that could take its eye off the bottom line for a minute, we COULD get a good public service campaign going.  I mean, they’ve got a good one for the ASPCA now with the sad doggies and kitties and folks are sending money THERE to help.  But the media knows that sad doggies and kitties will move people.  Shuffling, drooling, slurring older folks will just make people change the channel.  Folks get SAD when doggies and kitties are mistreated and uncared for.  Folks turn away when faced with images of middle-aged to elderly folks who pee their pants.

So that is, about as simply as I can put it, why there is dreadfully little interest in Parkinson’s Awareness Month.  Add to that the fact that it competes with African American Womens Fitness Month, Amateur Radio Month, Autism Awareness Month, Cancer Control Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month, Confederate History Month, Emotional Overeating Awareness Month, Global Child Nutrition Month, Fresh Florida Tomatoes Month, Irritable Bowel Syndrome Month, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, National Pecan Month, and National Straw Hat Month, I mean, how’s the media supposed to find the time to devote to old shaky bastards like us?

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