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At HealthSouth Harmarville, Exercise is Essential to Delaying the Progression of Parkinson’s Disease
By Nancy Kennedy

Parkinson’s disease is a dreaded diagnosis and there is no cure for it, but medical science has made significant advances in the treatment and management of the disorder.  One of the most important findings is that exercise, specifically designed for those with Parkinson’s, plays a primary role in limiting the degenerative effects of the condition, slowing its progression. It’s welcome news for those with Parkinson’s and their families, and it’s an invigorating development for healthcare professionals who specialize in their care, including Casey Rodak, occupational therapist, Director of Therapy Operations for HealthSouth Harmarville Rehabilitation Hospital.

In response to the research findings regarding the positive effects of exercise, Rodak and a team of highly qualified physical, occupational and speech therapists have created a dynamic and comprehensive program that improves function and slows the progress of the disorder.

“HealthSouth Harmarville has adopted a program called Parkinson’s Wellness and Recovery, or ‘PWR!Moves,” says Rodak. “It was developed in Arizona by Becky Farley, P.T. We have provided intensive training to six therapists who conduct the program, which incorporates aerobics, resistance and functional task-specific exercise. Research has shown that vigorous, consistent exercise can improve motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, including rigidity, balance problems, coordination and small motor movement. The exercise program also addresses depression, anxiety and cognitive problems that are also symptoms of Parkinson’s.”

“Research has shown that vigorous, consistent exercise can improve motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, including rigidity, balance problems, coordination and small motor movement. The exercise program also addresses depression, anxiety and cognitive problems that are also symptoms of Parkinson’s.”

Rodak notes that Parkinson’s Disease has received increased media attention in recent months, as public figures like Alan Alda and Neil Diamond have revealed that they have been diagnosed. Despite the attention, however, misconceptions about the disorder persist. “For many people, the image associated with Parkinson’s is of a person with tremors, a shuffling gait and a high risk for falls,” he says.

“The truth is that Parkinson’s is a complex disease that affects many of the body’s systems, not only the nerves and muscles. Symptoms can include reduced vocal volume, sensory problems in the feet and cognitive changes.”

Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that affects the brain cells which produce a chemical called dopamine, which plays a key role in movement and mobility. It involves physical and non-physical symptoms that frequently lead to isolation and reduced activity, two factors that are predictive of how rapidly the condition will worsen.

“Social isolation and reduced activity are related, and our PWR!Moves program targets these two factors along with motor function. We define ‘wellness’ broadly; it includes physical, emotional, cognitive and social functioning. People who participate in our program gain so much: the exercise itself, which improves neuromuscular symptoms; peer support; socialization opportunities and education. We include information about nutrition, lifestyle management and other relevant topics. The group aspect is the key; people are more likely to exercise with a group than on their own.”

PWR! Moves sessions are offered twice a week, for one hour and are free. The groups include eight to ten participants, and each session lasts for eight weeks. Participants are encouraged to keep up the exercise program at home. In addition, HealthSouth Harmarville hosts a monthly educational support group that focuses on helping people to live well with Parkinson’s.

Persons who wish to participate in the PWR!Moves program initially come in for an individualized Physical Therapy evaluation in the Outpatient Therapy department, to establish a clinical baseline. After the evaluation, opportunities include group PWR!Moves sessions of high or moderate intensity, outpatient physical therapy, and/or creation of a personalized home exercise program.

“Our HealthSouth Harmarville Parkinson’s Program,” says Rodak, “is getting great outcomes and is a game changer. Persons with Parkinson’s disease want to have a good quality of life and independence, as much as possible, for as long as possible. They are aware that their disease will eventually get worse, but there is reason for hope, with many excellent new medications and with the improvements they can achieve through exercise.  All the research shows that exercise is the #1 key to staving off the degenerative effects. Our PWR! Moves program gives people a sense of control and improves the depression and anxiety that are common to the disorder.  It’s empowering and energizing.”

Persons who wish to participate in the PWR!Moves program initially come in for an individualized Physical Therapy evaluation in the Outpatient Therapy department, to establish a clinical baseline. After the evaluation, opportunities include groupPWR!Moves sessions of high or moderate intensity, outpatient physical therapy, and/or creation of a personalized home exercise program.

HealthSouth Harmarville is a rehabilitation hospital that includes inpatient, outpatient and home health services. It is part of HealthSouth’s national network of hospitals and rehab facilities. To learn more, visit www.healthsouthharmarville.com

To learn more about PWR!Moves or to register, call (412) 826-2717

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