‘Staying strong on the inside and outside’ to keep walking and moving around: Perspectives from Aboriginal people with Machado Joseph Disease and their families from the Groote Eylandt Archipelago, Australia

Jennifer J. Carr, Joyce Lalara, Gayangwa Lalara, Gloria O’Hare, Libby Massey, Nick Kenny, Kate E. Pope, Alan R. Clough, Anne Lowell, Ruth N. Barker

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    Abstract

    Machado Joseph Disease (MJD) (spinocerebellar ataxia 3) is a hereditary neurodegenerative disease causing progressive ataxia and loss of mobility. It is the most common spinocerebellar ataxia worldwide. Among Aboriginal families of Groote Eylandt and related communities across Australia’s Top End, MJD is estimated to be more prevalent than anywhere else in the world. This study explored lived experiences of individuals and families with MJD to determine what is important and what works best to keep walking and moving around. A collaborative qualitative exploratory study, drawing from constructivist grounded theory methods, was undertaken for data collection and analysis. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with individuals with MJD (n = 8) and their family members (n = 4) from the Groote Eylandt Archipelago where ~1500 Aboriginal people (Warnumamalya) live. Interviews were led by Warnumamalya community research partners in participants’ preferred language(s). Participants described their experience of living with MJD, from ‘knowing about MJD’, ‘protecting yourself from MJD’ and ‘adjusting to life with MJD’. While the specific importance of walking and moving around differed widely between participants, all perceived that walking and moving around enabled them to do what mattered most to them in life. ‘Staying strong on the inside and outside’ (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) was perceived to work best to keep walking and moving around as long as possible. A framework that included personal and environmental strategies for staying strong emerged: ‘Exercising your body’, ‘having something important to do’, ‘keeping yourself happy’, ‘searching for good medicine’, ‘families helping each other’ and ‘going country’. This study, the first to explore lived experiences of MJD in Australia, highlights the importance of maintaining mobility as long as possible. Strategies perceived to work best address physical and psychosocial needs in an integrated manner. Services supporting families with MJD need flexibility to provide individualised, responsive and holistic care.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0212953
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    Number of pages17
    JournalPLoS One
    Volume14
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2019

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