Worrying about my dad’s life expectancy with Parkinson’s disease

A columnist tackles difficult thoughts as a beloved parent ages

Mary Beth Skylis avatar

by Mary Beth Skylis |

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I’ve always been an analytical person. For as long as I can remember, I’ve catalogued data about my life, creating charts that visually represent how I’m performing at work or whether I’m achieving my fitness goals. I believe this type of information will equip me to better handle the future.

If I can pinpoint my progress on a chart, I can better recognize how much effort is required in different areas of my life. This analytical quality seems like it’s built into my brain. And sometimes I can’t turn it off.

When I was visiting my family recently, I noticed this trait coming to life. I began thinking about the passage of time and how long I’ve been on this planet. If I live a long life, I’ve already seen a third of my days. If I live to be 79, the current life expectancy for American women, I’ll have about 48 years left in the bank.

But what about my loved ones?

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During an earlier stage of my dad’s Parkinson’s, the disease progression seemed more and more obvious every time I came home. The tremors worsened. He had to keep increasing his medication dosage to achieve the same results. The sand in his hourglass seemed to be falling faster. I felt robbed of time, and I began to worry about how much time he had left.

Dad has since undergone deep brain stimulation, and the disease seems more stable than ever before. But my analytical brain can’t stop crunching the numbers. The average life expectancy for men in the U.S. is 73.2 years. And Dad turns 70 this year.

Knowing that I could only have a few years left with my dad is crushing. Sure, I realize that many factors contribute to a person’s life span. Statistics aren’t always reliable, and 73.2 is just an average.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy had been steadily increasing in the U.S. prior to the pandemic. In fact, it had risen all the way from 47.3 in 1900 to 78.7 in 2018. While life expectancy has declined a bit since COVID-19 hit, I’m hopeful that it will rise again.

Buddhist principles instruct practitioners to become unattached. Under this philosophy, it’s generally accepted that you won’t stop suffering until you release your desires and expectations. Although this concept makes sense to me, it seems impossible to actually apply it, especially when it comes to my hopes for how long my dad will live.

Dad could die today. He could die in a decade. Either way, watching the sands of time fall to the bottom of the hourglass brings me a great deal of sorrow. Perhaps that’s why it’s so important to spend intentional time with those we love. Maybe the real challenge is determining how to spend whatever time we still have left.

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Sherry A Tallent avatar

Sherry A Tallent

True as it may seem, we all have fewer days ahead than behind us. I too have PD and looking at having DBS in September and October this year. It is hard for me not to work, not to worry about tomorrow. However, that day may never come. Enjoy the day, enjoy time you have with your parents no matter what is said you know you love them. Happy days, Be Bold Be Bright. Never , never give up the fight Against Parkinsons. My new saying> In God's Love,



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