An exercise program for those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease

Sep 14th, 2017 | By | Category: Connecting With, Featured

One hundred thousand Canadians suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, and it is estimated that 25 new cases are diagnosed every day. Early symptoms can include a tremor, slowness in movement and stiffness. Most Parkinson sufferers are in the 60 and over age group, although some who are under 50, called early-onset cases, have been diagnosed with the disease.

Occupational Therapist Nancy McFadyen of O.T. Ontario East in Smiths Falls, is the first in Canada to offer Ohio Health Delay the Disease, an exercise program for fighting Parkinson’s Disease, and Mary Cook talked with her about her treatment and how it could help.

Y@H: What is your treatment called?

NMcF: Delay the Disease, which was developed in Columbus Ohio by David Zidd and Jackie Russell, is a fitness program designed to empower people with Parkinson’s Disease to take control of the disease with daily exercise.

Y@H: Is this a new treatment for Parkinson’s sufferers?

NMcF: This program in new to our area but has been running for over 10 years in Ohio and has spread across the United States.

Exercise is good for all of us and there is growing evidence that exercise is particularly important to ward off specific health conditions. The unique aspect of Delay the Disease in combating Parkinson’s symptoms, is the integration of cognitive challenges in addition to the physical exercise.

Parkinson’s symptoms develop slowly and by the time most people are diagnosed, they have already lost, on average, 60-70% of their Dopamine –  the brain’s major neurotransmitter used for movement, coordination and information processing. With the gradual onset of symptoms, the body adjusts to the movements we associate with Parkinson’s such as a low voice volume, shortened stride length and downward head posture. These changes create shortened muscles and weaker muscles. The Delay the Disease program takes the practical approach that muscles can be strengthened and stretched if they are challenged to do so on a daily basis. The program shows the person with Parkinson’s Disease how to consciously take control and combat the movements that their brain has gradually “hijacked” over time, as the L-Dopamine diminished in their brain until symptoms reached a level to the point that the person was diagnosed with
Parkinson’s.

Y@H: How did you happen upon this program?

NMcF:  I had a person with Parkinson’s Disease referred to me for occupational therapy and went looking for current treatment methods. I discovered this program that had a track record of helping manage Parkinson’s symptoms and improving the person’s ability to retain and regain lost abilities. I went to Columbus, Ohio and received training directly from the developers of the program. A couple of years later, I went back for a week and attended two classes every day. This gave me the opportunity to see participants in the classes in Ohio that had improved between my two visits and to make me even that more interested in offering the program in Canada. O.T. Ontario East is the first in Canada to be licensed and able to offer the program here.

Y@H: Is it accepted as a treatment in Canada?

NMcF: Yes, Delay the Disease is offered as an occupational therapy group treatment. As such, there is no HST and is eligible as a medical expense for tax purposes.

Y@H: Can you tell us how it works?

NMcF: We offer classes in 12-week blocks. Before people join the group, I meet with them to determine their particular interest and reason for attending the classes. For some it may be to write more clearly, for others it may be to improve their balance or be able to don coats with greater ease. Each session includes activities to combat symptoms of Parkinson’s, but the activities can also be tailored to address individual priorities as
well.

During the classes there is an emphasis on helping people identify when and where they can add Parkinson-specific exercises to their day and incorporate them as habits for daily practise. The classes are fun and participants are often working harder then they would on their own and they also receive encouragement from each
other.

Y@H: Have you been able to work with doctors locally to use this treatment on cases in our
area?

NMcF: All the area doctors have received referral forms and information about the program. With participant’s permission, their family doctors and neurologists receive notification of the person’s enrollment in Delay the Disease and their progress in the program.

Y@H: Why is it only in the United States?

NMcF: The developers are in the States and while they have done presentations in Canada, no one else, to the best of my knowledge, from Canada has taken the initiative to become trained and licensed to run the program.

Y@H: Is the Parkinson’s Society aware of your role in helping those with the disease?

NMcF: Yes, in fact, O.T.Ontario East was an exhibitor at the Parkinson’s Superwalk in Ottawa, a nation-wide fundraiser that is held annually. The walk was also held in Perth and one of my participants volunteered to hand out pamphlets at that location.

Y@H: Can your treatment lead to a cure?

NMcF: Delay the Disease helps people with Parkinson’s Disease manage their symptoms and maintain a quality of life. The program empowers people to take control of the disease with daily exercise. The search for a cure remains a quest supported by Parkinson’s Canada and a reason for fundraising such as the Parkinson’s Superwalk.

Y@H: Does your program always work?

NMcF: The developers, David Zidd and Jackie Russell, have published research called Effects of a formal exercise program on Parkinson’s disease: A pilot study using a delayed start design. Parkinsonism and Related Disorders.2014;20:106-111. In this article they found the program to demonstrate that long-term, group exercise programs are feasible in the Parkinson’s disease population, with excellent adherence and minimal drop out and with significant improvement on the Beck Depression Inventory for groups that exercised for 48 weeks. They continue to gather data and study the benefits people are experiencing on an individual
basis.

Y@H: How would someone reading this now who is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease find out more about the program?

NMcF: I would encourage people to check out the Delay the Disease website and YouTube videos. They can, of course, call me to answer any questions they may have.

Editor’s Note:

For more information about Parkinson’s Disease contact Parkinson Canada.

Parkinson Canada provides support services and education to people living with Parkinson’s disease, their families, and the health care professionals who treat them. Operating since 1965, the organization advocates on issues that concern the Parkinson’s community in Canada. The Parkinson Canada Research Program funds innovative research for better treatments and a cure. 

Visit www.parkinson.ca

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