Before my mom had a true diagnosis of dementia, we made long drives to see many doctors. On these tense journeys I’d try to distract her each time we passed a huge billboard screaming ALZHEIMER’S CARE. But there was a more inspiring billboard further down the road showing Michael J. Fox and the lines, “Determined to Outfox Parkinson’s, Optimism Pass it On“. It always made me feel better.
The Pass it On billboards are part of an inspirational media series created by the non-profit Foundation for a Better Life. This particular sign reminded me how much I like Mr. Fox, who was so entertaining in his TV sitcoms and Back to the Future movies. His Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis would have wrung the optimism out of most people. Fox had a brilliant career and enormous talent. Despite his early fame, he never seemed vain or self-serving. But what he offered the world through his performances has long been eclipsed by the gift he’s given to people suffering from neurological diseases. He’s invested so much of his time, wealth, and name recognition into Parkinson’s research, that he’s now more famous for scientific philanthropy than he is for acting.
Optimism can dwindle when you watch someone suffer from a disease like dementia. We know there is no cure and finding one still seems far off. But, like Mr. Fox, I always try to look at the bright side. Even as dementia has stolen more of her skills, our family still has still had the opportunity to love my mom during her six years with the disease. Her problems get more complex and care is more difficult. But I think about those billboards every now and then. Fox says of his Parkinson’s Disease, “I can get sad, I can get frustrated, I can get scared, but I never get depressed – because there’s joy in my life.”
That is a powerful message for caregivers and dementia patients alike. Optimism, pass it on.