The Empty Chair

For anyone that might not be aware Parkinson’s Disease is a long-term neurological condition that affects the way the brain co-ordinates body movements including walking, talking and writing and it affects both men and women. It is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. The nerve cells in this part of the brain are responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine acts as a messenger between the brain and the nervous system and helps control and co-ordinate body movements. If these nerve cells become damaged or die then the amount of dopamine in the brain is reduced. This means that the part of the brain that controls movement cannot work as well as it should and this in turn causes movements to become slow and abnormal. They can cause the sufferer to have a tremor or stiffness that makes it frustrating and eventually impossible to do everyday activities such as eating, smiling, getting dressed or driving.

Parkinson’s doesn’t just affect movement however. Other symptoms can result. These can include tiredness, pain, depression, constipation and weight loss and can all have a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of people with the condition and to make life even more challenging, people with Parkinson’s never know when the next bout of symptoms will hit. This makes being out in public and socialising a daunting experience and the subsequent stress and anxiety ultimately makes the condition worse.

The following photographs are of Dave Forsyth. He has suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for many years. He is also my father and he died just before Christmas.

Over recent months his health had gradually and inevitably been deteriorating. Along with the endless tablets consumed daily and the inherent side effects that come with some of those tablets the disease itself was making things increasingly difficult. Not just for him but for both my parents. However if this medication wasn’t taken at the right time then the swift onset of the violent tremors that are a major effect of the disease quickly occurred and any periods of lucidity became mixed with confused ramblings and difficulties with carrying out even the most basic of activities.

A noticeable sign of his struggle with the tremors was the way he used to hold his right hand – the worst one for tremors – with his left hand or by keeping it in his pocket to try and keep the tremors from becoming too obvious although as the condition gradually became worse he stopped doing this as much. Irregular sleep patterns, frequent toilet needs, uncontrollable and violent tremors, lack of general mobility and balance and at times hallucinations and confusion caused by the medication were just some of the issues that had be dealt with each day and meant that it became a difficult task for my mother to ensure all the usual household needs were carried out whilst still maintaining care levels for my father. The demands of which were becoming greater each week.

After taking his medication there were times of great awareness from my father who could recall small details from years ago. At times his dry sense of humour was evident and he would occasionally look back fondly over his collection of Rupert the Bear annuals that he’d collected for years – although the reason for suddenly wondering off in the first place and returning with the annuals was unclear and must I imagine have had something to do with the effects of the disease or the medication. Occasionally he would visit the local pub to watch the football. He supported Newcastle and Arsenal! He attended a local day centre a couple of days days each week for a bit of a break and distraction – for both him and for my mother – on rare occasions he still enjoyed pottering in the garden and continued to try and do a few of the general household chores and requirements. But these were becoming less frequent.

As the condition became worse his speech suffered and became a slow quiet mumbling which made communicating with him difficult. There were plans initially for him to see a specialised speech therapist but this didn’t happen because his concentration span had deteriorated to such a degree that he would have struggled to get any benefit from it. He now suffered from Dementia. Over more recent months my mother had to put him into a care home for further ‘respite’ breaks. Each visit afforded them both but especially my mother whose own health was starting to suffer the chance to take a breather and to have at least a few days away from the constant care that was now a requirement.

Towards the end of November my father was taken from the care home into hospital and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Becoming more frail he had now lost the use of his legs and was unable to leave his bed. He now suffered significant weight loss despite efforts to maintain his diet. After a couple of days the pneumonia had cleared up enough to allow him to be moved back to the care home where he was visited by friends and family and of course by my mother who spent each day with him.

However this was only for the shortest of times and after a few days of being there he died in the early hours of December 4th. His funeral was held at Durham crematorium and was very well attended by family and friends who had known him across the years.

In a way the service was similar to my father – a straight forward event without many frills. A gentle and quiet occasion with a good amount of humour.

There was some music played by some of his favourites….a bit of Johnny Cash during the service and then at the end from the 1953 musical ‘Calamity Jane‘ a song by one of his lifelong favourites – Doris Day……. ‘ The Deadwood Stage ‘.

He’d have appreciated that.

Dave Forsyth suffers from Parkinsons Disease

Enjoying the sun in the back garden

World Parkinson's Disease Day

Sitting in his favourite armchair

World Parkinson's Disease Day

Walking into the Kitchen


My father’s shadow on the front room wall


My father shows off his collection of Royal Dalton porcelain


Watching the street out of the front window


A keen researcher of family history my father looks at a ‘Forsyth’ family crest on the wall


Wedding day picture

Picktree Court Care Home

Resting on the bed in the care home during a respite stay

Picktree Court Care Home

Combing his hair whilst on respite stay in a care home


Glancing through his large collection of Rupert the Bear annuals that he’d collected since childhood


Hallucinations as a result of some of the medication caused my father to see long-dead relatives in the room


A voracious reader my father reads in the care home

Picktree Court Care Home

Maintaining his dry sense of humour my father reacts after finding a book he misplaced days earlier


Sleeping in a chair





My mother changes dressings on the painful bed sores on my fathers back


Taking some of the daily medication needed to try and keep the tremors under control


A list attached to the fridge acts as a reminder to the medication that is needed each day


Special additives to food reduce the risk of choking


An instruction to remind my father what he needed to do when visiting the toilet is stuck to the toilet wall

Picktree Court Care Home


Picktree Court Care Home

Picktree Court Care Home

As the illness become worse he spent longer periods in the care home and hospital and became weaker often wandering around the care home unaware of what he was doing


My mother sits by my fathers bedside in the care home as his condition and associated illnesses deteriorate even further. This was the last picture of my father before he died



World Parkinson's Disease Day

In memory of David Thomas Forsyth

 23rd November 1939 to 4th December 2014


Learn more about Parkinson’s Disease… HERE  on the Parkinson’s UK website.

See more of my work in my website galleries and blog via the link: Room 2850

All images remain copyright (c) Ian Forsyth.

No usage without arrangement.

Published by ian forsyth photography

Press and Documentary photographer covering the North of England. Stringer & contributor for Getty Images News. Prints are available to buy on my website.

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