Alan Alda is speaking publicly about his battle with Parkinson’s disease for the first time.
Appearing on CBS This Morning, Tuesday, the actor — widely known for his leading role of Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H — revealed he was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder three and a half years ago. But despite the daily challenges, it hasn’t stopped him from living his life.
“I’ve had a full life since [my diagnosis],” he said. “I’ve acted, I’ve given talks, I help at the Alda Center for Communicating Science… It hasn’t stopped my life at all. I’ve had a richer life than I’ve had up until now.”
Alda, 82, said he decided to speak out about his diagnosis because he began to notice that his thumb was twitching in recent television interviews and figured it was only a matter of time before fans began to speculate.
Opening up about his diagnosis, Alda said he decided to get a scan because he had been acting out his dreams. “I was having a dream that someone was attacking me and I threw a sack of potatoes at him but what I was really doing was throwing a pillow at my wife,” Alda explained, noting that he had read an article that such actions were an early sign of Parkinson’s.
Otherwise, he said he wasn’t experiencing any symptoms until months later, when his thumb started twitching.
“I said, ‘I want to know if there’s anything I can do. I want to do it before things start to show up,’ ” he said. “You still have things you can do. I’m taking boxing lessons three times a week. I do singles tennis a couple of times a week.”
“What’s interesting is this is a disease that’s different for almost everyone who has it,” he pointed out, also noting that individually, “each day is different from the next.”
“You don’t know what it’s going to be,” he said. “But the main thing is there’s stuff you can do.”
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Asked how he maintains such a positive outlook, Alda compared his diagnosis to a puzzle that needs to be solved.
“What do I have to adapt to carry on a normal life?” he said. “I enjoy solving puzzles, it’s really fun. I’m not angry. It’s a challenge. You’ve got to cross the street, there are cars coming. How do you cross the street?… You find a way to do it.”
The Emmy, Oscar and Tony-nominated actor said he hopes anyone else suffering from the disease will remember “that there are things you can do.”
“Find out what real science is coming up with that helps,” he urged. “It helps to keep moving. It helps to move rhythmically.”
“I think my saying something about it publicly today is going to make one thing a little easier: I’m not going to worry that while I’m trying to say something, I’m not going to be thinking, ‘Is my thumb on a life of its own?’ “
Noting that Parkinson’s disease affects 1 million Americans, Alda quipped, “I’ll join the fraternity.”
Alda will be discussing his diagnosis further on his newly launched podcast, Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda.
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