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A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words

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Images Are Important

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Images are powerful. Which is why I’m horrified when I look at some of the images that are used by organisations that claim to help / support / provide information to those people that are affect by Parkinson’s.

Why, why, why is the first image you see usually an aged person? I tried to find statistics (not that hard because I’m lazy) but all I can easily find are facts that 1% of the population over 60 are diagnosed. I’m not entirely certain how that can be true. I live in New Zealand, in a small area north of the capital, Wellington. If less than 1% of the population under 50 are diagnosed, but it’s 1% ish across the country, how is it that I can name six people in my immediate circle of neighbours, friends, etc that have Parkinsons? Four of them have official early-onset. The numbers are at best, very unclear, or completely wrong.

The people in this club we don’t want to belong to are all under 65. (One is 62 and skews the numbers – boo!) None of them look like our friend the shuffling man. They also don’t use a walker or require help with looking after themselves. So why is it that the main image for one of the organisations is an image of a geriatric female using a walking frame whilst their carer looks on with a sympathetic smile? Images of the same person are repeated throughout the site. Nowhere could I find a person with Parkinson’s that looks even remotely like my friends or I.

This image makes me feel depressed. I work in web development and the main picture on your homepage is called the ‘Hero Image.’ It should clearly represent exactly what you are about It’s what you are in a nutshell. I have every expectation that the two people in the image are good people. They will probably have great senses of humour, be able to hold a great conversation and speak knowledgeably about many things. They will represent a large, significant population living with Parkinson’s.

Yet…

This is the image that this organisation thinks best sums up the population living with Parkinson’s in their area. It is the public face of the disease. The one that will be associated with the word “Parkinson’s” with the general public.

We suffer already with so many preconceived ideas and stereotypes. I recall collecting for a Parkinson’s charity one year and so many people muttered “it’s that thing for old people” and walked past. One bloke roared up on a motorbike and as he walked past said “what are you doing that for?” I replied, “they help people like me cope with living with Parkinson’s.” He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at me. “You’ve got this?” he asked incredulously. “Yes. It’s no fun.” He gazed at me like I was something really odd, reached into his pocket and pulled out a $20.00 note, which he put into my tin. “Bloody hell” he said, and went off to do his shopping.

woman stood in commanding pose against a blue sky.
This is what Parkinson’s looks like.

I believe that this negative imagery impacted my own diagnosis. I have heard many stories where men over 60 have visited their GP who have immediately responded “you have Parkinson’s.” However, when I first went to my doctor to try to find out why I was limping, I was sent away. I was told there was nothing wrong with me. I now know I was displaying classic symptoms. I had no arm swing, I could walk when watched and trying, but dragged my leg when I wasn’t paying attention. When I returned to complain a month later, he inspected my shoes and commented “you’re telling the truth, I can see it’s worn down on one side.” Why would I lie about limping everywhere? But of course I didn’t fit his image of Parkinson’s. When I finally saw him again, after I was diagnosed, which was in itself a lengthy process, he remarked I appeared stiff on one side. “Yes. I have Parkinson’s. Do you remember? You said there was nothing wrong with me.”

To his credit he appeared embarrassed, and remarked “Well, it’s not like you look like a typical person with Parkinson’s.”

What does someone with Parkinson’s look like? They look like me. They look like my friend Emma. Look in the mirror. That’s what ‘A person with Parkinson’s’ looks like. You might not have this disease, but we’re normal people. We’re living normal lives. We’re not past it, on the shelf, whatever box it is you want to put us in, you can shove it.

woman doing karate
She’s Emma, she’s a Karate Queen.

That’s why using these images is so dangerous. It hammers home the perception that this is only for the old people. They’ve had their lives. Who cares, right? It’s something that affects the elderly, and they’re about to shuffle off anyhow. Why bother with the research, the investment in finding a cure for something that’s not really relevant?

My children care. They want their Mum to be around while they grow up. My partner cares, he would like to spend more time with me. The economy cares. So many of us still work in full time (and part time) employment. We pay our taxes and are valuable members of society. Of course, we should find a cure even if this did only affect the elderly, they are valuable members of our communities and lives too.

Those of us diagnosed under the age of 62 are considered a ‘minority’ by the medical fraternity. I have been made aware of other younger people being misdiagnosed. I believe this is in part due to the public face of Parkinson’s being heavily skewed in favour of the aged.

There are a huge number of people under 60 that feel unrepresented and ignored. We are fed up of society viewing this as an ‘old person’s ailment’ and demand that more is done to represent us as positive, valuable and active members of our society.

Until next time, Kitty. 

(PS – I changed my doctor.)

kitty laughing into camera
Kiity Fitton – usually up to mischief.

Kitty Fitton is a motivational speaker, MC and comedian. She is also a full-time blogger and writer. She is mother to four small people and was very cross to discover she had Parkinson’s Disease.

Find out more at her personal site below. 

emma_k
Emma Kyriacou. Quite good at hitting things.

Emma Kyriacou is a real-life ninja. Taking up Karate to help fight her Parkinson’s Disease, she’s co-founder of Good Moves and is passionate about promoting exercise to improve mobility and neuroplasticity. (Is that a word? It should be.)

Find out more at her personal site below. 

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