Fighting Parkinson’s as a Family: The Kiefers

John and Wanda Kiefer, along with their son Drayton and their daughter Danica, manage John’s Parkinson’s as a family.
John and Wanda Kiefer, along with their son Drayton and their daughter Danica, manage John’s Parkinson’s as a family.

When John Kiefer, a heavy duty mechanic from Saskatchewan, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009 at age 41 he wasn’t caught off guard. John and his wife Wanda had suspected for some time that he had Parkinson’s based on his mobility symptoms.

“It was no real surprise,” said John. “I knew there was something wrong for quite a while. I had all kinds of balance issues and my hands were stiff.”

In 2002 John suffered from a severe anaphylactic shock. Health care professionals mistakenly thought this could have been a catalyst for John’s Young Onset Parkinson’s disease. At the time of diagnosis, their son Drayton, the first of two children, was only one year old. The Kiefers knew from then on in that life was going to be different.

Parkinson’s and Everyday Life

Since John’s diagnosis the Kiefers have learned to adjust their lives around Parkinson’s disease. Every member of the family has a role to fulfill.

“Everyone tries to do things to make life easier for me. My wife and kids have been a huge help. They help with everything,” John explained. “We try to work together as best we can. You’ve got to remember to thank your wife and family for all they do for you.”

John’s working life with his two brothers has also helped center the family. The Kiefer brothers run a heavy mechanic shop that services rigs, tractors and large equipment with John as a partner since 1997. While his duties aren’t as hands-on as they used to be John still plays an integral role in the family business.

“Because he’s in partnership with his two brothers he’s still able to go into work. If he was working for a big company I’m sure they would have forced him to go on disability,” said Wanda.

The Kiefers agree that one of the keys to a healthy life with Parkinson’s is to start with a strong family dynamic at home. Open and honest communication among the members of their family goes a long way in day-to-day life.

“Our relationship is stronger. He knows that I’m there for him no matter what. John is so grateful for everything I do. He tells me how much he appreciates me,” Wanda said.

The Kiefers believe that others can learn from their experiences.

“It’s normal to be scared but don’t let that stop you. Carry on. Modify your life.”

“You gotta try and stay positive and you can’t give up,” John added.

Wanda’s Caregiver Tips

  • Take time each and every day for yourself whether it be relaxing in a hot bath or going with a friend for coffee, reading or whatever relaxes you. It brings needed patience and refuels energy levels.
  • Be patient and only help out with the daily tasks you need to. Ask what tasks they may need help with and try not to do everything or the person may lose their independence earlier.
  • Focus on getting the person with Parkinson’s to do simple chores that they are still capable of doing. For example helping young children with homework can be that person’s responsibility.
  • Give lots of time to get ready before leaving the house. Try to leave the house about 15 minutes before you have to leave so that the individual is not rushed. Rushing can trigger frustration and tremors even more.
  • Effective communication in Parkinson’s can be challenging for both parties. When socializing in a group, it helps to have the spouse or care partner start a story and then pass it on to the person with Parkinson’s to finish the story. That way they do not just sit and listen but rather partake in the conversation.

Following these helpful pieces of advice could help any caregiver have a healthier life and relationship with the person with Parkinson’s in their life.

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. For additional information and printable resources visit www.parkinson.ca  or call 1-800-565-3000.

comments