Making Peace With Parkinson's

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When Hazel Peace was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 14 years ago, her doctor said she would never get well.

"Parkinson's changes your life completely," said Peace, 72, who is now confined to a wheelchair. "I don't think people realize how fortunate they are if they can walk and travel and do the things they want."

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Hazel Peace was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 14 years ago.

Parkinson's disease progressively deteriorates areas of the brain that control movement. The exact causes are unknown and symptoms vary from person to person, often rendering diagnosis and treatment difficult.

Parkinson's affects 1 percent of those 60 years and older, according to the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix.

Peace, who used to walk 2 miles daily, said she first experienced "floppiness," or an inability to control certain movements, in her legs and arms. Doctors told her nothing was wrong with her limbs.

"Looking back five years before diagnosis, we could see the symptoms, but did not know what was going on at the time," said Edwin, 75, her husband of 56 years.

Before settling in Payson a few years ago, the two had planned to travel the country.

"We had to give up our trailer," said Peace, who also has arthritis. "We were going to become gypsies. I was active, but now because of my condition, Edwin is handicapped, too."

Although Peace said she is unable to attend exercise classes or drive a car, she has relearned other tasks.

"I still get into the kitchen and cook, but I sure do make a mess," said Peace, laughing as Edwin smiles and pats his belly. "You just have to accept that you can't do things like you used to and find a different way."

When she became unable to stand and could not iron clothes, Peace bought a small ironing board for the dining room table. She eases out of her walker into a chair, spreads a blouse across the board and picks up an old metal iron. Edwin watches.

"I let her do what she can and help where she needs it," Edwin said. "I don't want her to give up."

"My husband is my caregiver," Peace said. "He's done a good job."

Edwin said he pushes Hazel around in her wheelchair and makes sure she takes her daily medications.

"Hazel takes medications seven times a day, plus a shot every morning for osteoporosis to rebuild her bones," said Edwin, opening a green box with multicolored pills organized by the hour. "I've got the times programmed in my cell phone."

Peace said she begins taking medication at 6 a.m.

"I have to have the pills to get me going because I'm so stiff," Peace said. "It just takes longer to do everything."

Peace, who speaks with a barely noticeable hitch, said she is also trying to incorporate speech therapy.

Family support gives her hope as well, said Peace, who has three children and six grandchildren.

"They are very supportive," Peace said. She holds up a framed picture of an ultrasound. "And now we're waiting for the phone to ring for our first great-grandchild."

Peace said she is in the process of writing a book about her life.

"My kids and grandkids don't know anything about my life and who I was, if they just see pictures," Peace said.

Peace said she refuses to give up. "Like anything else you just have to go on with your life or shrivel away. We've learned to adapt our life to what we have so that I can be active as long as I can."

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