Do you ever scroll through Facebook and marvel at articles or fan pages showing the 75 year old who ran a marathon? Or the 65 year old who has the fitness level of a 35 year old? Just because one is aging — a fact no human can prevent — doesn’t mean muscle strength has to deteriorate if it is maintained through regular exercise. The unfortunate reality is, the adage “use it or lose it” is a well-established truth, according to a study in the Journal the Physician and Sports Medicine done in 2011, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22030953.
What if one suffers from Parkinson’s Disease? Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that occurs when dopamine generating cells cease to function. It is classified as a movement disorder. Common symptoms of the disease include tremors, difficulty walking, and balancing, as well as loss of motor skills.
Can it be possible to slow down the progression of a disease that occurs when the dopamine generating cells cease to function? Can one reduce common and obvious symptoms of shaking, slowing of movements and difficulty walking? According to the American Academy of Neurology, the answer is yes. While Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, and there currently is no cure, exercise can slow down the speed and increase dopamine and neuroplasticity, according to NeuroReport 2013.
In 2006, a man living with Parkinson’s for fourteen years literally shuffled into the Ridgewood YMCA in Bergen County, New Jersey. After managing the disease with exercise, the 50-something year old began falling due to persistent Parkinson’s symptoms, and over time, his ability to exercise on his own became more difficult. Previously a runner, his goal was to achieve the highest fitness possible and worked with a trainer attacking each symptom as it occurred focusing on high intensity (particularly spinning), core, yoga and balance exercises. After several months, he was able to reduce his Parkinson’s medication due to the improvements from a regular exercise regime. In 2011, he had participated in the local Ridgewood 5K Run four years straight.
Enter Carol Livingstone. Carol is the Health and Fitness Director at the Ridgewood YMCA in Bergen County, New Jersey. She holds a degree and multiple certifications in training patients with Cancer as well as Parkinson’s Disease.
Motivated by this patient’s success, Carol began researching exercise programs that specifically addressed Parkinson’s patients. She wanted to focus on people who had early stage Parkinson’s to help them reduce their symptoms. She eventually discovered Delay the Disease, a group exercise program affiliated with the OhioHealth healthcare system in Columbus, Ohio. Delay the Disease was co-founded by David Zid, BA, ACE, APG Director of Movement Disorder and Musculoskeletal Wellness at OhioHealth and owner and president of DavidZid Health Works, a personal training facility and Jackie Russell, RN, BSN, CNOR, Co-Founder and program director. David and Jackie began training older adults who suffered from Parkinson’s and after years of evidence-based research, co-created a Parkinson’s-specific program for trainers. They both speak throughout the country spreading the program and its benefits. They also created a specialized program for caregivers and partners to help loved ones using Delay the Disease exercises at home on a daily basis. Delay the Disease is a wellness program that empowers patients, puts them back in control, and offers hope and optimism in the face of a progressive neurologic diagnosis.
Delay the Disease was exactly what Carol was hoping to find through her research. In 2010, she flew to Columbus, Ohio, where she participated in a 2-day program and received certification to train those afflicted with Parkinson’s using the Delay the Disease program. She learned about the signs and symptoms, clinical progression and current research and assessment tools with Parkinson’s patients. Without any advertising, word of mouth spread at the Y, and she began the 12-week pilot program with 19 people. They pre-tested people’s movements, and tested them again after completion. The exercises focused on balance, agility and mobility, and generated significant results. At the onset of the program, one male participant could not rise out of a seat without assistance. Well over six feet, the task was difficult even with his wife’s help. After the pilot program ended, he completed 7 unassisted rises from a seated position in 30 seconds. Similar gains were made with other people’s balance and agility.
More importantly, a community developed at the Y for Parkinson’s patients to exercise, and commiserate. Working together as a group had the effect of disarming the isolation normally felt by Parkinson’s sufferers, since the entire group had symptoms such as shaky hands and difficulty rising. This allowed the group to exercise and motivate each other and maintain their dignity. Eventually, Carol trained several trainers and the program spread to four additional YMCA’s as well as Valley Hospital in Northern New Jersey. The program was so effective that every Occupational and Physical Therapist working at Valley Hospital was trained using the Delay the Disease program to help Parkinson’s patients in the hospital. When those therapists weren’t at the hospital, they volunteered with Parkinson’s patients at the Y.
While a Parkinson’s diagnosis will affect roughly 60,000 Americans a year, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, that does not necessarily mean those patients should cease an active lifestyle. Exercise is shown to reduce effects of the disorder, and research continues in hopes of finding a cure. If you are interested in learning more about Delay the Disease and its efforts, go to http://www.delaythedisease.com.