Feet planted behind her, Tina MacDonald leaned over an inverted balance-training dome and gripped the edge of the base with her hands. She pulled one leg up past her elbow, slapping her foot on the ground with purpose. Then it was back with that leg, forward with the other.
She quickly and repeatedly alternated between legs, each time calling out a word, letter or number – or the color it was written in – on papers taped to the floor on each side of the dome. “Black! Green! Red! X! 4! Red! ...”
I believe that I have power over Parkinson’s.
The affirmation the women say at the close of their PWR Moves class
The multitasking exercise worked her body, but also her mind and her voice. She, like two other women working out with her Thursday afternoon, is trying to protect those things – her very essence – against the disease trying to steal them.
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Oakdale resident MacDonald, 62, and Stockton residents Leslie Sherman, 72, and Maureen Conway, 69, have Parkinson’s, a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, often including tremors.
In their fight against it, they’re employing nutrition, medication and – perhaps most important, they believe – exercise. Between them, the women walk, do stationary cycling, dance, do yoga and more. Together, they take the PWR!Moves classes taught by physical therapist Lori Dodd at Core Fitness in Modesto’s Roseburg Square shopping center.
An estimated 10 million people worldwide live with Parkinson’s disease. In the United States, as many as one million individuals live with Parkinson’s, which is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
PWR stands for Parkinson Wellness Recovery, the Arizona-based nonprofit whose founder and CEO Becky Farley created the PWR!Moves program.
Dodd, a licensed physical therapist with 30 years’ experience, got PWR!Moves-certified in the fall and began teaching classes in January. She’d never known the best way to work with Parkinson’s sufferers, she said, until attending the World Parkinson’s Congress in Portland, Ore., in September. She had planned to become certified in another Parkinson’s-fighting program, Rock Steady Boxing, until MacDonald contacted her and asked her to pursue PWR!Moves instead.
So far, MacDonald, Sherman and Conway are Dodd’s only PWR!Moves students, and she loves working with them. “They’re driven ... taking charge of their lives and doing everything they can to slow the progression of their disease, which is really inspiring,” Dodd said. “They want to maintain a normal life as long as possible, and if they’re willing to fight, I have to help them.”
The days that we don’t exercise, it’s not a good day. Our bodies start tightening up, we don’t move as easily.
Sherman, diagnosed 10 years ago, always has exercised and been fitness-minded, she said. The extra advantage of PWR!Moves, she said, is that the exercises have practical applications. They help with getting in and out of a car or a restaurant booth, stepping over obstacles, reaching for items on a shelf. Even everyday activities like walking and talking. “That’s why we yell out the numbers (while exercising), because your voice gets softer and softer as you progress in your disease sometimes. But every person has different symptoms; we don’t all do the exact same thing.”
The exercises help with strength, coordination and balance, while the cardio “keeps your brain alive,” Conway said.
Mild cognitive impairment is a common symptom of Parkinson’s. Many sufferers feel distracted or disorganized, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, or have difficulty planning and carrying through tasks. They may have trouble remembering information, or finding the right words when speaking.
As is the case with many neurological disorders, the cause of Parkinson’s disease is not known.
“Speaking is one of the problems we often have,” Conway said. “Talking slowly and getting the words out. If it seems like we can’t think of it –”
“– that’s because we really can’t,” Sherman interjected.
Conway, who learned a little more than a year ago that she had Parkinson’s, said the first thing she was told was she likely had symptoms for a while, without realizing what they meant. “By the time you’re diagnosed, you’re already in pretty bad shape,” she said. “They say you’ve already lost 75 percent of your dopamine by the time they diagnose you. ... It takes a lot of time to undo the damage that’s been done.”
The exercises she, Sherman and MacDonald do – combined with their positive, “kick-butt” attitude – help with that and then help stave off the disease’s ravages.
What’s nice about this class is when you take it and you learn the exercises, it reminds your brain not to slump over, it reminds you to stand up straight and swing your arms when you’re walking.
Tina MacDonald, noting that a slumped walk is common among Parkinson’s patients
They’d love to have more company in their class – men and women alike, and sufferers of not just Parkinson’s but other ailments. The exercises can benefit someone rebuilding strength after a stroke, for example, MacDonald said.
“A lot of people who are more advanced in the disease are a little afraid to do the exercises,” Sherman said. And Dodd agreed that while watching her three strong students is inspiring, it also can be a bit intimidating. But, she said, a lot of the exercises can be done in sitting or standing positions for those not up to the full range of movement.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327
Parkinson’s at a glance
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time. Nearly one million people in the US are living with Parkinson’s disease. The cause is unknown, and although there is presently no cure, there are treatment options such as medication and surgery to manage its symptoms. Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. Learn more at the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation site, www.pdf.org.