There is no set treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Each individual needs a unique mix of medication, therapies and lifestyle changes.
But one thing that does produce results for many people is exercise.
Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at Westminster Presbyterian Church’s gym, people with Parkinson’s file in for the Delay the Disease exercise program.
Beverly Wells started the program with severe shoulder problems, barely able to lift up her arms and taking six to seven naps daily.
“It amazes me how much stronger I am,” she said with a smile after an Aug. 28 class.
Delay the Disease is a program developed by Ohio Health designed to target symptoms and enhance movement, proactively targeting tremors and increasing flexibility.
Jeff Carper has had Parkinson’s for about 30 years and said the church had a similar exercise program previously.
“I got involved in exercise, which is about the only defense Parkinson’s patients have, unfortunately,” he said.
Instructor Jeannine Hartman leads participants through moves that mimic daily actions: getting in and out of a car, standing up from and sitting down in a chair and walking. It focuses on the core, brain and cardiovascular system.
Hartman is encouraging and bubbly, a cheerleader for each participant. Over the eight weeks, she has learned each person’s strengths and weaknesses. She knows how and when to push them. She can anticipate how they’ll stumble, what may trip each person up. Some she gives other drills based on their needs. Hartman also gives them things to practice at home. Hartman says Carper has learned to catch himself when he stumbles, which is the whole point of these balance exercises.
Linda DeMellier said her husband, Larry, has had Parkinson’s for 20 years.
“He enjoys the class a lot. He really does, and she’s a great teacher. It tires you more than you think,” Linda said, watching as Larry performed an activity that combined wall kicks and counting.
Linda is glad the Delay the Disease class is offered in the South Hills, and that it encompasses all areas, not just one specific issue. Many associate Parkinson’s with tremors, but not everyone shakes.
“It affects everybody completely different,” Hartman said.
Hartman explains during the class that the program began in 2006 with an orthopedic surgeon about to enter a hip surgery. He thought his equipment didn’t work, but the problem was with his hand. This was the birth of the Delay the Disease program, in which Hartman has since been trained, receiving her license in April.
The classes began in May and, because of a waiting list, grew to an additional weekday class. Hartman has been a personal trainer for 18 years and has clients with a wide variety of abilities, many with movement disorders. She said the moves they practice during the Delay the Disease class help with basic instincts, as well as improve balance and stability.
But some of the greatest gains are in cognitive skills.
Hartman said she wanted to teach the class so that she could help people more effectively.
“I wanted to reach more of the population,” she said.
In her time as a trainer, she realized she wasn’t making much progress with her Parkinson’s patients, but now she’s learned the strategies that can make an impact.
“The progress and the improvement that I’ve seen in this Parkinson’s population, it’s proven,” Hartman said.
The fitness class had two runs through the summer and will pick up again Sept. 11. The first fall session runs through Oct. 30, and the second eight-week session is Nov. 1 through Dec. 20, with no class scheduled on Thanksgiving. Classes require prior registration. For more information or to register online, visit wroc.westminster-church.org
The church also hosts a monthly Parkinson’s support group, which meets in Fellowship Hall the second Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m.
There are support groups throughout the greater Pittsburgh area. For more information about Parkinson’s disease, resources and additional support groups in the Western Pennsylvania area, contact the Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania at 412-837-2542 or visit www.pfwpa.org.