It often comes as a surprise when a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease arrives for patients. Oftentimes, many neurological symptoms of the disease are passed off as simple signs of aging. For some patients, there are tremors, some have smaller handwriting, still others have muscle rigidity and have difficulty standing up when sitting for a long period of time.
In addition to decreased motor skills due to Parkinson’s, there are other difficulties a person may not notice at first, but worsen as time goes on. There is Bradykinesia, which is also known as “slow movements,” and someone may have difficulty swallowing and speaking, too.
Currently, there is no definite cure for Parkinson’s disease, which has an estimated 50,000 confirmed cases in the United States. The symptoms of the disease usually occur after the age of 50.
Sometimes, in early onset cases, Parkinson’s manifests as early as when a person is in their 30s, such as actor Michael J. Fox, who has triumphed in speaking out about the symptoms of the disease, and formed his own foundation to educate everyone about increasing medical research to treat, and hopefully cure Parkinson’s one day through the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
On a local level, those with Parkinson’s and their caregivers can come together to dance and exercise, to help stave off muscle problems that come along with the disease through the Parkinson’s Association of Southwest Florida (PASFI). The free classes are offered in Bonita Springs and Naples and are taught by local dance and exercise specialists who are specifically trained in balance and mobility.
Once a week, patients come together and dance together to tunes from Broadway jazz hits to show tunes, while smiling and laughing together.
“Anyone sweating yet?” asked instructor Marjorie Johnston to one of her students at a recent class sponsored by PASFI. To which everyone laughed, and another student replied, “Yes, under my tongue.”
“The whole program was modeled after the Mark Morris Dance Company in New York, and I was trained by them,” explained Isabel Castro, a certified dance instructor, who teaches dance classes free of charge to those who sign up at the Fitness for Life Center, in the Shops of Hidden Lakes in Bonita Springs. “We are sitting in the chair at first, and then we tap our feet, and we do improv moves, and then we stand and do ballet techniques, and then tap while standing. Toward the end of the class, we do partner dancing, and Zydeco dancing, which is a form of dance from Louisiana.”
Shortly after beginning to take classes with PASFI, Chuck McEwen of Naples noticed a difference right away in how his wife Carmel, and family were more mobile every day.
“All the medications deal with the symptoms of the disease, but there is no cure. We have worked through the disease for 20 years, and I feel there is no better way to retard the progress of the disease than regular exercise,” he explained, after taking a break from a recent class offered by PASFI.
IF YOU GO:
Free dance classes for Parkinson’s patients
Meets at 1 p.m. each Thursday at the PASFI office
2950 U.S. 41 North, Suite 20 (Hibiscus Center, above Zazou) in Naples
Info: Call PASFI Executive Director Ruth Hubing at 417-3465. PASFI has recently connected with NCH Healthcare System to offer speech classes at the North Collier Campus. Please call for more information.