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

Read Time: 6:20
Published: Apr 6th, 2016
"Short-Term Memory is Shot" Michael J. Fox New Parkinson's Challenges Force Retirement
Article Updated:July 30th, 2021

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. In his new 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," Fox writes in his book. 

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 end up needing 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 now suffering from 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," he said. 

"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 explained.

Fox Warned to be Careful

Parkinson's Disease affects an individual's balance, gait, and movement and can impose mobility constraints. It also can cause what is called Parkinson's disease dementia. The person has a decline in thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving abilities.

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," Fox said.

Parkinson's at Age 29

Fox was working on the movie "Doc Hollywood" in 1991 when he learned about his condition. The published article says he waited seven years to announce his situation to the world since he felt it would hurt his acting career. He claims he was in denial.

According to a report published on amomama.com, Fox noticed a twitch in his left little finger. In 1991, while on the set of "Doc Hollywood," Fox sought a neurologist's advice. However, the neurologist dismissed it as an injury to his funny bone. But six months later, the symptoms had worsened. 

His foundation website offers several resources for both researchers and the public, including those who have 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 age 65 and older. 

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

As his condition progresses, Fox will see declining health and mobility. In addition, many people with Parkinson's have a decline in their cognitive ability. Unfortunately, he has already seen a decline in his memory. 

In recent years, Fox appeared on some episodes of the CBS TV series 'The Good Wife' and '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.' He said, 'The good news is that you have 10 years of work left'."

Michael J Fox

Speaking with David Letterman many years ago, Fox described the day he received his diagnosis.

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

Lewy bodies are also found in several other 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 key brain changes linked to Parkinson's disease and Parkinson's disease dementia are abnormal microscopic deposits composed chiefly of alpha-synuclein, a protein that's found widely in the brain but whose normal function isn't yet known. The deposits are called "Lewy bodies".

According to the Alzheimer's Association, the brain changes caused by Parkinson's disease begin in a region that plays a key role in the movement. As Parkinson's brain changes gradually spread, they often begin to affect mental functions, including memory and the ability to pay attention, make sound judgments, and 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 sad story about Michael J. Fox underscores the need to plan for the financial costs and burdens of aging. Our health, body, and mind will change over time. Often we get little advance warning. 

Experts suggest planning in your 40s and 50s. For many American families, affordable Long-Term Care Insurance is the solution. The policy will pay for the care needed that is otherwise not paid for by health insurance and Medicare.

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

About the Author

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

Editor's Note

Fox's health issues remind us that our health can change without notice. Plus, longevity, itself, is a risk for needing long-term care services. 

Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance provides access to your choice of quality care, protecting savings and income, and easing the stress otherwise placed on your family.

As Humans We Deteriorate Over Time

All of us are human. Our bodies don't work forever; we will need help with the activities of daily living we take for granted. These are things we had to learn as an infant, including eating, bathing, using the bathroom, and more. With longevity comes cognitive decline. 

People require long-term care services and supports due to an illness, accident, or the impact of aging. Preparing for the financial costs and burdens associated with getting older is an essential part of retirement planning.

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Start planning before you retire. Start your research by finding the current and future cost of care in your area by using the LTC News Cost of Care Calculator. You will also discover additional information that pertains to your state. Click here to use the calculator. 

Always use an experienced Long-Term Care Insurance specialist. The cost of Long-Term Care Insurance varies by over 100%. Using a specialist instead of a financial advisor or general insurance agent will ensure you will get accurate quotes and professional recommendations. 

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  • Health and Family History: Make sure the specialist asks you detailed questions about your health, family history, and retirement plans. Underwritingcriteria vary with each insurance company. If they are not asking you detailed questions, then find another specialist.

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LTC News Contributor James Kelly
James Kelly

Contributor Since
August 21st, 2017

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

About the Author

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

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