One of the biggest challenges for people with Parkinson’s disease, says former physiotherapist Jillian Carson, is the tendency to withdraw from the world because of the stigma associated with movement-based disabilities, but her exercise classes are aiming to help break that isolation.
“The biggest thing with people with Parkinson’s disease, is that we isolate ourselves,” she says.
Even their body language changes, she adds. Shoulders start to hunch in, feet drag on the ground, voices get muffled and quiet.
Carson, 55, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009 and experienced the changes firsthand, and when she heard about a Parkinson’s-specific exercise regime that an American neuroscientist was researching, it sparked a big interest.
She became entrenched in the Parkinson’s community, creating a video about her own journey that was shown at the opening ceremonies of the 2013 World Parkinson Coalition. Soon, Carson became a Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery Therapist, and founded the ParkinGo Society — which just recently gained registered charity status — and started up a class in 2012, with some tweaks of her own to include cognitive exercises as well.
The physical portion is high intensity, and Carson and the other instructors lob questions around like the rubber balls used in their warm-ups to build the relationship between muscle movement and brain activity.
The group counts down from 100 by sevens, or lists off what they had for breakfast yesterday as they keep their bodies moving, and the results are astounding.
“By the time they’re leaving, their writing is normal,” says Carson. “They’re smiling, and everyone is laughing and giggling. They’re doing more all of a sudden, and they’re living again.”
Several people have reduced their medications, like George Brown, a regular who’s had Parkinson’s for 20 years. Since starting the exercise class Brown has gone from nine meds to three, and no longer has to use either of his canes.
Another woman came in using walking sticks, and eight months later, she was running. Carson herself has halved her medication since beginning the regime.
“It is so remarkable what exercise can do for us,” says Carson. “I’ve got to share this with people.”
Caregivers and family or friends are more than welcome to join the classes as well, says Carson. The important thing is to get out and get moving.
“Our lives have changed from having the exercises,” she says. “It’s never too late. Never.”
The exercise classes run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at Greenglade Community Centre, 2151 Lannon Way in Sidney.
For more information, visit parkingo.org, or crd.bc.ca/panorama/facilities/greenglade-community, or call Greenglade Community Centre at 250-656-7055.