When you're with Muhammad Ali, your day is never normal or predictable,” says Lonnie Ali, with a broad grin and a glint of mischief in her eye. The Champ, 65, may be challenged by his struggle with Parkinson’s disease, says Lonnie—his wife of 21 years and mother of their son, Asaad—but he’s still fighting to get the most out of life. And so is she.
These days Lonnie has been on the stump for a national initiative called Fight for MORE, created to give caregivers of people living with Parkinson’s a new venue to find resources and tap into a supportive online community.
It’s exciting, says Lonnie, a longtime advocate for Parkinson’s research. But while her advocacy largely has centered around this one disease and its impact on 1.5 million patients, much of her caregiving advice is universal. She says her many years as a caregiver have given her unusual clarity about what it takes to live a healthy life.
“Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is to try to stay positive,” Lonnie says. Also, “never, ever try to go it alone or stop taking care of yourself.”
Lonnie notes that life partners like herself may have special challenges, but she says she’s learned that couples can continue to enjoy their relationships. “Do things together, even small things,” she advises. For example, she says, Muhammad loves to tag along on grocery runs, chatting up fans and tossing his favorite treats into the cart. The two also pack up the van and take day trips. “Those normal activities help keep him engaged—and we’re together.
“Muhammad taught me never to let an illness define you or your mission in life,” Lonnie says. For caregivers, that means “focusing on what you can do with the person, not what they can no longer do.”
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