Island Senior: Support for Parkinson’s Disease
Chances are you know someone who has Parkinson’s disease. If not, you may be familiar with the actor Michael J. Fox, perhaps the most well-known person with Parkinson’s, a progressive, degenerative neurological disease.
Suzie Lefever, MA, PT, ATC, of San Juan Physical Therapy says she is seeing more people with Parkinson’s all the time. About 1 million people in the US are affected. Last week at the Mullis Center, Lefever, together with Julia Thompson, MS, PT, and Cindy Lonsinger, PTA, CI, gave an informative presentation about Parkinson’s, what it is, its diagnosis and treatment and also launched a new support group for people with Parkinson’s and the people who care for them. The first support group met the last Monday. The next support group meeting will be on Monday, August 21, at 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm at the Mullis Center.
A take-away message from the presentation was that the sooner Parkinson’s is diagnosed and treated the more a higher quality of life can be maintained. What makes early diagnosis challenging is that there is no definitive lab test indicating the disease. Doctors make a clinical diagnosis based on symptoms and how those symptoms respond to medications. Early symptoms may include, loss of sense of smell, a tremor in a hand or foot, slower, smaller movements, and stiffness.
Carolyn Haugen briefly spoke of work being done with dogs to detect Parkinson’s through smell, a pilot project on San Juan Island. For more details on this innovative work please link to: PADs for Parkinson’s.
Once diagnosed, research shows that the best outcomes are a result of a customized program of medication, physical therapy, and homework. Because the disease affects the cells in the brain that produce dopamine, dopamine promoting drugs that stimulate the brain’s dopamine receptors are used and can help control tremors.
Physical Therapist Lefever stressed movement. She also noted that, while it is good to get an early start, movement at any stage is going to be beneficial. Still, to get an early start can help to stave off the progression of the disease. “Movement”, said Lefever, “changes what happens in your brain”. Physical exercise can improve quality of life, regenerate the nervous system, improve the immune system, and improve synapsis from inside the brain. Lefever also stressed that for motor training to work it has to be something you are serious about – something important to you. Biking, boxing, and Tai Chi are recommended. The Balance class (Thursdays 1pm – 2pm) and Chair Yoga classes (10am – 11am – Fridays) taught at the Mullis Center are also recommended. The key is to find something you can devote yourself to with repetition and intensity and find something you can do at home.
All three presenters, Suzie Lefever and Cindy Lonsinger at San Juan Physical Therapy and Julia Thompson at the Life Care Center are certified clinicians in the LSVT BIG program, a research-based exercise approach to treatment that consists of four weeks, four days per week, individual sessions, with daily homework and daily carryover exercises. This program entails intensive high-effort practice teaching patients to use bigger movements. Initially the person with Parkinson’s will not be aware that their movements have become smaller. This program helps them understand what is required to produce bigger “normal” sized movements and translate those movements to real-life everyday activities. The program is adapted to the individual and the individual’s needs.
Thanks to our local health professionals, innovative research, and the Mullis Center, local families affected by Parkinson’s disease have a wealth of resources and support to turn to. If you have Parkinson’s disease or if you care for someone who does, you are not alone.