Retrain the Parkinson’s Thinking
Fight back against Parkinson’s!
by Jeffrey Hull, M.D.
After practicing pediatric medicine for 35 years, I was looking forward to the approach of retirement. About five months before the date for my retirement, I was experiencing some mild but puzzling symptoms.
Thinking back, these symptoms had been very subtle for about 12-18 months or so. I was noticeably weaker and had a mild tremor (shaking) in my hand when holding a fork at meals. I also had a couple of other mild but mystifying experiences, such as loss, years earlier, of my sense of smell. I literally could not smell a dirty diaper that mothers would instantly notice. Another common symptom was writing very small, no matter how hard I tried to write larger. However, it was a sharp eyed nurse, and problems playing pool that motivated me to go to a neurologist. I felt sure that my tremor and other symptoms were simply age related. My wife went with me to see the neurologist and left an hour and a half later. The neurologist diagnosed Parkinson disease, confirming my worst fears. I was numb. Gradually, shock changed to sadness, anxiety, and depression.
By about three months after my diagnosis, I was at a low point, physically and emotionally. I was on anti-Parkinson medication, which seemed to help to some degree with the symptoms of mild tremor and weakness, but I felt depressed and alone. It did not help that while I worried about my illness I was very busy with the closing of my medical practice. I thought there must be something to do more than waiting for new tremors.
Then one day the local newspaper printed a human interest story about the Rock Steady Boxing therapy for Parkinson disease. A group was just forming in Decatur. I called the contact number right away, and I have been in the program for six months.
What is Parkinson disease?
Parkinson (or Parkinson’s) disease, or Parkinsonism, is a chronic degenerative disease of the brain for which there is so far no cure. It is caused by death of certain types of brain cells which manufacture a substance, dopamine, which is essential for normal function of muscles. Progressive loss of dopamine proceeds over a typical course of 10 to 15 years, although some patients have much slower progression of symptoms. The disease most often affects people 50 years or older, but may appear in younger persons as well.
Physical findings in Parkinson disease include a characteristic stooped, shuffling gait; facial weak- ness (called “mask face” that makes one appear to be angry); eventual trouble swallowing properly; and most characteristic the tremor. This shaking of- ten involves one hand first, and will eventually affect all muscles of the body after a number of years.
The Rock Steady program
The main method of treatment of Parkinson disease has largely been the use of drugs. Chief among these medicines is L-dopa, a pill that can relieve tremor and other symptoms temporarily, but does not alter the underlying and ongoing deteriora- tion that remains. Side effects are com- mon, requiring careful monitoring and medication adjustments.
Parkinson patients have generally been encouraged to exercise to stay as limber as possible. But in the last few years, research has been found that a program of more strenuous exercise combined with fine motor drills, gait training, and a variety of similar drills targeting significantly extend better well-being. The program is called Rock Steady Boxing. As the name implies, it is centered around non-contact boxing drills, meaning that participants do not hit each other, but spend time practicing flexibility and balance, then fitness and strength, and finally boxing moves and punches on the heavy bags, speed bags, shadow boxing, and a variety of boxing moves that teach the body to restore movement, and reduce tremor. Since beginning the program, Rock Steady Boxing has been a God- send for me. Rock Steady is a physical training program to retrain the nervous system to cope with long term effects, but it is a lot more than that. It is a close knit group from diverse backgrounds and different stages in the disease but bound by a common enemy, Parkinson disease. It is about group members helping one another, encouraging, listening – more like a “family” than I ever expected. And most importantly, the program works. Muscle strength increases, balance improves, and joint movements are more fluid. Ask us what we are doing, and we say: fighting back!
Rock Steady Boxing is a nationwide pro- gram with programs scattered through- out the country. In our area there are lo- cal groups in Decatur and Huntsville. Each leader has been trained at the national headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.
In Decatur, sessions are from Noon to 1:30pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at Bender’s Gym where they gen- erously provide the use of the gym space at no charge. In Huntsville, sessions are from 9:15 – 10:30am on Monday, Tues- day, and Thursday at a local gym located at 3228 Leeman Ferry Road, Huntsville, AL (Behind Matrix Gym).
The phone number for the Decatur lo- cation is 256-303-0710, or visit their website at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the Huntsville location, the phone number is 256-513-8164, or visit their website at www.rocketcity.rsbaffiliate.com.