"Short-Term Memory is Shot" Michael J. Fox New Parkinson's Challenges Force Retirement

Fox has been outspoken about his Parkinson's disease since he went public with his diagnosis in 1998. He explains his cognitive decline in a new book and media interviews that has forced him into a second retirement.

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"Short-Term Memory is Shot" Michael J. Fox New Parkinson's Challenges Force Retirement
6 Min Read April 6th, 2016 Updated:May 4th, 2023

In a world where celebrities shine like constellations in the night sky, Michael J. Fox has always stood out as a beacon of resilience and inspiration. From his iconic roles in "Back to the Future" and "Family Ties" to his unwavering commitment to activism, Fox's life journey has been marked by both immense success and indomitable spirit. Yet, his most powerful role may be that of a tireless advocate for Parkinson's disease research and awareness, following his own diagnosis in 1991.


The moment the world learned of Fox's Parkinson's diagnosis, it seemed as if time itself had paused, leaving us to ponder the fragility of life and the strength of the human spirit. Since then, Fox has transformed his personal battle into a public crusade, championing a deeper understanding of Parkinson's disease and the relentless pursuit of a cure. 


Through his foundation and the power of his voice, he has illuminated a path of hope for millions affected by the condition, demonstrating that even in the face of adversity, we can transcend our challenges and embrace our full potential.


30+ Years Later, It is Getting "Tougher."


Since his diagnosis with Parkinson's disease at the age of 29, Michael J. Fox has always been optimistic about himself and life. With growing health issues, he has become more realistic. 


More than 30 years later, the now 61-year-old actor said living with the disease is "getting tougher." Fox told CBS News' Jane Pauley in an interview on "CBS Sunday Morning" that he doesn't expect to make it to age 80.


I mean, I'm not gonna lie. It's getting hard; it's getting harder. It's getting tougher. Every day it's tougher. But, but that's – that's the way it is.


See the full interview here.


In his book, "No Time Like the Future," he is becoming soberer about his condition and mortality.


There is a time for everything, and my time of putting in a twelve-hour workday, and memorizing seven pages of dialogue, is best behind me. 


He says he is entering his second retirement. While he admits, or perhaps hopes, that could change because, as he writes, everything changes, he seems to understand that he is entering another phase of life. "... if this is the end of my acting career, so be it," Fox says.


A Fall Starts His Slide


Falls are one of the primary reasons that older people or those with chronic health issues need long-term health care. In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America, Fox spoke about his fall.


He explained he thought things were going well, but an accident caused him to break his arm. Fox described his fall as "careless," as he slipped and fell in his hallway and slid into his kitchen.


He was home alone at the time, and he knew he had "shattered" his arm.


So I found myself underneath the phone, waiting for the ambulance to come, lying on the floor with my broken arm," Fox explained on GMA.

He said this was "bottom" for him. Fox said, "It was so useless. It was so pointless and so stupid, so avoidable.

Short-Term Memory is Shot


Part of the problem, which often happens with Parkinson's, is his short-term memory. Fox has noticed that he is suffering from some cognitive decline, including confusion, delusions, and dementia.


He says this is something he rarely contemplated and never spoke about in the past. In the book, he describes looking for his car keys before remembering he can no longer is able to drive. He mistook one of his twin daughters for the other and uttered, "What did you think?" to "the person to my left, who isn't there."


In an interview with People magazine, Fox says the disease is infringing on his ability to act.


My short-term memory is shot. I always had a real proficiency for lines and memorization. And I had some extreme situations where the last couple of jobs I did were actually really word-heavy parts. I struggled during both of them.


Fox Warned to be Careful


Parkinson's disease impacts a person's balance, gait, and movement, leading to mobility limitations. Additionally, it can result in Parkinson's disease dementia, characterized by a decline in cognitive abilities, such as thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving.


An estimated 50 to 80 percent of people with Parkinson's eventually experience Parkinson's disease dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association.


Fox told GMA that everyone is taking an abundance of caution with him. He has been warned to be more careful.


I have to think before I walk; I can't just get up and go because I don't have much control of my momentum and control of my direction.


Parkinson's at Age 29


In 1991, while working on the movie "Doc Hollywood," Fox discovered his condition. According to a published article, he waited seven years to disclose his situation to the world, fearing it would harm his acting career. He admits to being in denial.


As reported on amomama.com, Fox first noticed a twitch in his left pinky finger. During the filming of "Doc Hollywood," he sought the advice of a neurologist. However, the neurologist dismissed it as a funny bone injury. But six months later, the symptoms had intensified.


His foundation website offers several resources for researchers and the public, including those with Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia. 


Getting diagnosed at age 29 put Fox in a rare subgroup referred to as "young-onset" Parkinson's patients – those who are younger than 50 years old. It is much more common for Parkinson's to affect those aged 65 and older. 


As Parkinson's is a chronic and progressive condition, the 60-year-old Fox may require more assistance at home to complete his daily activities. Family members often face increased challenges and responsibilities as their loved one enters the later stages of the disease. Typically, a Parkinson's patient will need close supervision due to memory loss associated with the disease's later stages.


As Fox's condition progresses, he will experience declining health and mobility. Furthermore, many individuals with Parkinson's see a decline in cognitive abilities. Unfortunately, Fox has already experienced a decline in his memory.


In recent years, Fox appeared on some episodes of the CBS TV series 'The Good Wife,'' "The Good Fight,' and ABC's 'Designated Survivor.'


 "It was pretty scary. I was 29 years old and so it was the last thing I expected to hear. I thought I'd hurt my shoulder doing some stunt because I had a twitch in my pinkie. And the doctor said 'You have Parkinson's disease. The good news is that you have 10 years of work left'."


In an interview with David Letterman several years ago, Fox recounted the day he received his Parkinson's diagnosis. Fox has since used his experience to raise awareness and advocate for research into finding a cure for Parkinson's.


Another complicating factor is that many individuals with both dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson's disease dementia also have plaques and tangles — the hallmark brain changes associated with Alzheimer's disease.


Lewy bodies are found in various brain disorders, including dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Evidence suggests that dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson's disease, and Parkinson's disease dementia may be linked to the same underlying abnormalities in alpha-synuclein brain processing.


The primary brain changes connected to Parkinson's disease and Parkinson's disease dementia are abnormal microscopic deposits composed primarily of alpha-synuclein, a protein found abundantly in the brain, although its normal function remains unknown. These deposits are referred to as "Lewy bodies."


According to the Alzheimer's Association, the brain changes caused by Parkinson's disease start in a region that plays a crucial role in movement. As these brain changes spread gradually, they often impact mental functions, including memory, attention, sound judgment, and the ability to plan the steps needed to complete a task.


Michael J. Fox Foundation 


Today he devotes much of his time to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which he set up in 2000. He has said his goal is to put the foundation out of business. 


Parkinson's causes several symptoms that generally increase over time. Many people are unaware that the custodial care and supervision required due to Parkinson's and related dementia are not covered by health insurance or Medicare. These costs are generally paid out-of-pocket unless a person has Long-Term Care Insurance. Medicaid, the medical welfare program, will pay for these costs for those with little or no resources.


Advance Planning Benefits Family and Finances


The poignant tale of Michael J. Fox serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of planning for the inevitable challenges that come with aging. Our health, body, and mind transform as time passes, often without much warning.


Wise planning in your 40s and 50s can significantly impact many American families. Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance often emerges as the ideal solution, providing guaranteed tax-free benefits for the necessary care that health insurance and Medicare will not cover. With a Long-Term Care Policy, you can safeguard your retirement accounts and other savings, ensuring that you and your loved ones are well-prepared for life's unexpected turns.


Start your research by reading The Ultimate Long-Term Care Guide

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

Fox's health challenges serve as a stark reminder that our well-being can shift unexpectedly, and simply living longer increases the risk of requiring long-term care services.


Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance offers access to quality care of your choosing, safeguards savings and income, and alleviates the stress that would otherwise burden your family.


The Inevitable Human Deterioration 


We are all human, and our bodies are not designed to last forever. Eventually, we may need assistance with the activities of daily living that we currently take for granted. These are skills we learned as infants, such as eating, bathing, and using the restroom. Increased longevity often brings cognitive decline.


Long-term care services and support become necessary due to illness, accidents, or the effects of aging. Preparing for the financial costs and responsibilities related to growing older is a crucial aspect of retirement planning.


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