New Program Provides Empowerment, Support for Parkinson’s Patients

Throughout his life, 69-year-old Wayne L. hasn’t been one to sit still. The retired vice president of operations for a high-tech telecommunications company is also a father, grandfather, and running enthusiast who has participated in 27 marathons and 12 ultra-marathons. So when a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in 2000 threatened to sideline him, he decided to take control of his health before it could take control of him.

For the better part of a decade, Wayne has made the mental and physical adjustments necessary to embrace the challenges that Parkinson’s can bring, including tremors and problems with gait and muscle stiffness.

“I’ve learned that I’m responsible for my own happiness,” he said. “It’s up to me to make the best of this situation and seek the best life I can.”

Finding the tools to cope

With that attitude in mind, Wayne was intrigued when he learned about a full-day workshop for Parkinson’s patients hosted by the at Scripps Clinic and Scripps Green Hospital. Held on May 12, 2009 at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, the workshop was designed to offer Parkinson’s patients and their loved ones a comprehensive set of tools for managing the condition.

The first half of the day was dedicated to education, with speakers offering information about diet and nutrition, health insurance and legal considerations, maintaining emotional health, and different treatment options including alternative and integrative approaches. The second half of the day focused on physical activity, which plays a significant role in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Patients participated in aerobic exercise, weight training, and meditation, as well as an assessment of their balance, flexibility, gait, and posture.

“Our theme for the day centered around a very simple but very important concept: that attitude and exercise are essential to managing Parkinson’s,” said Melissa Houser, MD, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center. “While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, it is not a terminal illness. We want to empower our patients to face their condition head-on, and not allow it to take over their bodies or their mental well-being.”

Living a full life

Peg H., a 72-year-old former clinical psychologist, doesn’t want to be defined by her disease. Before learning she had Parkinson’s seven years ago, the accomplished grandmother pursued a variety of interests including bioenergetic analysis training, spiritual counseling, acting, and singing.

In an effort to keep ahead of her condition, Peg attended the Parkinson’s workshop along with Wayne and nearly 60 others. She described the program as valuable, particularly the physical portion of the day and the reports from other patients who live full lives despite having the disease.

“I enjoyed learning new exercises, especially because I’m starting to exercise more in addition to my physical therapy,” she said. “Even though my life has really changed, and I can’t do everything I once could, I’ve continued to participate in activities that I enjoy immensely. Because Parkinson’s has affected my memory I no longer act, but I’m having a ball singing with the Tremble Clefs.”

The Tremble Clefs is a county-wide, therapeutic singing program for people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. It provides a strong social support system for its members as well as meaningful opportunities to give back through performances at local churches, hospitals, seminars, and senior facilities. The group’s director is a speech therapist who leads the singers in breathing, stretching, vocal exercises and movement designed to address voice and speech problems.

Keeping things in perspective

Wayne also expressed his satisfaction with the workshop. He said he would recommend it to other people with Parkinson’s who are looking for some guidance on how to better manage their disease, because the program’s emphasis on attitude and exercise is so important.

“I’m very happy with the care I’ve received at Scripps Clinic,” he said. “With Dr. Houser’s help, and through a combination of medication, physical therapy, and exercise classes, I’ve been able to help reduce my symptoms. But right now there is no cure for Parkinson’s, meaning people shouldn’t rely completely on their doctor to help them face this disease. Medication can only get you so far. It’s up to each of us to take the initiative to continue living a fulfilled life.”

A second, all-day Parkinson’s workshop has been scheduled for October, with plans to hold the event twice annually.

For more information about the , or to schedule a consultation, please call 858-554-8203.