Anyone dealing with chronic illness faces daily challenges that can significantly impact their quality of life and overall happiness. Unfortunately, as we age, it’s more and more likely that something will become a constant medical problem. It can be especially challenging for celebrities and their loved ones – who spend so much time in the public eye – to remain upbeat and present a positive image while managing their chronic illness.
If your senior is managing a chronic disease, you may find they’re sometimes faced with the same problem of staying positive when they may feel sick, lack energy, or wonder if they’ll ever be the same again.
One of the crucial things for caregivers to know about chronic illness is that it’s just one part of the person you care for. At times it may seem overwhelming, but as these celebrities do, if you can help your older adult remember who they are beyond their ailments, it will help them to accept the difficulties they face a little more easily.
Celebrities with chronic illness and how they manage
Michael J. Fox – Age 60 – Parkinson’s disease
Emmy winner Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at 29. He founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2001; the foundation has raised more than $100 million in 20 years. In 2021, Fox announced he was retiring from acting as the disease continues to cause him more and more challenges. While he’s honest about his frustrations, he still feels optimistic about his life—though he hesitates to tell others to feel the same.
Fox told CBS News, “I have a wheelchair that I use every now and then and it still sucks. I have a hard time getting to a restaurant and up the stairs to where my family’s eating, perhaps at a dinner. But then I’m there with my son and my three daughters and my wife, and friends of ours. And it’s just like, that’s great.
“I thought, ‘Who am I to tell people, cheer up? Who am I to tell people it’s gonna be OK? Who am I to tell people, ‘Have a positive attitude,” he continued. “You really got to go to that and check that place and say, ‘Is that just something I say? Or is that something I believe?’ If it’s something I believe, is it something I can live? And if I can live it, is it fair for me to ask others or suggest to others, or prescribe that others look at it the same way?”
Fox said living with Parkinson’s is a “heavy thing,” but he remains optimistic.
“I just felt so much weight of that public persona being Mr. Optimist. And I still am Mr. Optimist.”
Tom Hanks – Age 65 – type II diabetes
A Baby Boomer, Oscar winner Tom Hanks didn’t think health problems would ever happen to him. Like so many other Boomers, he ignored the warnings about the epidemic of Type II diabetes, caused for the most part by lifestyle and diet.
“I’m part of the lazy American generation that has blindly kept dancing through the party and now finds ourselves with a malady,” the actor explained to Radio Times. “I was heavy. You’ve seen me in movies. You know what I looked like. I was a total idiot.”
Hanks believes that gaining and losing weight for roles contributed to him developing the disease, and he has vowed never to gain weight for a role again.
George Clooney – Age 60 – chronic pain
Clooney has suffered from chronic pain since 2005 when he injured his spine while filming “Syriana.” Spinal fluid began leaking, and he endured a series of surgeries to fix the problem, at one point even contemplating suicide. Clooney told GQ he spent a few months “really laying into the painkillers.”
In 2018, Clooney again suffered a debilitating injury when he was in a motorcycle crash. It was then that, as he told GQ, he went to a “pain guy,” who taught him to think of his pain as normal, which enabled him to deal with the pain differently than he had before. “Basically,” Clooney said, “the idea is, you try to reset your pain threshold. Because a lot of times, what happens with pain is you’re constantly mourning for how it used to feel.”
Dame Judi Dench – Age 87 – macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects people in two ways: dry and wet. Oscar and Tony winner Dame Judi Dench has both, one in each eye. Dench was diagnosed in 2012, and in the early stages of the disease, she would have scripts printed in large fonts so she could read them. As her AMD progressed, she has turned to friends to help her memorize her lines as she continues to act despite the deterioration of her vision.
As Dench explained to The Guardian, “You find a way of just getting about and getting over the things that you find very difficult,” she said. “I’ve had to find another way of learning lines and things, which is having great friends of mine repeat them to me over and over and over again.”
AMD has made it challenging to recognize people, even close up. However, Dench doesn’t let that stop her. She went on to tell the guardian she could easily walk past someone she knew well and not recognize them. “That’s tricky … But you adapt to it. And I don’t want it [AMD] to interfere.”
Montel Williams – Age 65 – multiple sclerosis
After years of suffering from symptoms that indicated MS – including “weird feelings” in his legs and feet – Montel Williams was finally diagnosed with the disease when he was 43 years old.
At a gathering of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, Montel Williams said a doctor told him, ‘We don’t usually see this in an African-American male, and it’s the category that does the worst. I expect you to be in a wheelchair in the next four years.’”
Williams took that statement, which infuriated him, and used it as the motivation to learn everything he could about the disease.
“MS is such an individual disease,” he said. “You put 10 people with MS in a room, and six of them are on different medications—and four aren’t on any medication at all. I’m blessed by the fact that I’m on six different treatment regimens. I’m on Western medication and also on a holistic treatment protocol that includes changes in my diet, exercise and mindfulness.”