SIDNEY – They are waging war. Their weapons are physical and mental exercises. Their enemy is a disease that affects about a million Americans.
The local “soldiers” in this war may be found twice a week in Delay the Disease classes at the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA. The disease is Parkinson’s, a disorder caused by a lack of the chemical messenger dopamine in the movement centers of the brain, according to information on the Y’s website.
On Oct. 23, the local Y will host a seminar, “Exercise & Your Brain: Does it positively impact the aging brain, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases?” (See accompanying article for details.)
Participants in the Delay the Disease classes answer “yes” to the question posed in the seminar’s title.
“It’s had tremendous benefits for me,” said Mike Herbert, 51, of Sidney.
Another class member, Tom Clark, 63, of Sidney, said he’s seen “significant physical improvement” as well as improvement of his mental health. “The mental health progress for me was, if not more important, equal” to the physical improvement.
Clark was diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years ago. A former high school basketball coach and teacher with five daughters and 10 grandchildren, Clark said he had lived a healthy life, so he was reluctant to admit he had a serious disease. He even kept the bad news from his wife. “I didn’t tell her for almost a year,” he said.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Don’t be embarrassed,’” Clark said. “It wasn’t easy for someone as prideful as I am.”
Clark’s wife, Penny, a dietitian at the Ohio Living Dorothy Love, urged Clark to seek help. She saw a flier that advertised the Y’s Parkinson’s program. “She laid it on my pillow,” Clark said. “I took that as a hint.”
Herbert saw information about the program in the newspaper and decided to check it out. “For me, really, I didn’t see any options,” he said. His symptoms were getting worse at that time.
Herbert owns an auto repair shop in Sidney. A couple of his employees run the business, “so I can come and go as needed,” he said. “Some days I can work and some I cannot. I don’t trust myself doing some things.”
Herbert and his wife, Shannon, of 29 years, have three children. He was 42 years old when the Parkinson’s symptoms began, which included his thumb and little finger twitching.
Clark first noticed something was wrong when he and his wife would take walks. His left hand would curl up, and he also has “significant trouble getting legible hand-writing on paper.”
The men also said the disease has affected their speech patterns. “This bugs us,” said Clark, who works part time for the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center as a consultant and coordinator.
The men praised their Delay the Disease instructor, Julie McIntyre, because she makes the class helpful and fun.
The fun was evident at a recent session, where participants’ wisecracks had McIntyre laughing.
“We really enjoy the variety of activities she plans for us,” Clark said.
Clark and the other participants like the class so much, that they are asking the Y to add a third day of exercise.
McIntyre, the Y’s wellness coordinator, said she’s seen Delay the Disease participants make great progress, such as when some individuals in the program are able to get up off the floor on their own again and walk up and down stairs more easily.
“The biggest thing is giving people hope,” said McIntyre. “Class participants are able to connect with other people with Parkinson’s and build relationships.”
Those in the class vary greatly in their abilities, depending on how advanced the disease is. For some people, seemingly small things can mean a great deal. One participant was able to wink again after not being able to for several years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Some experience small improvements, and others are able to make significant increases in physical function, strength, balance and fine-motor skills. One participant’s doctor said the person’s abilities had improved 30 percent since beginning the class.
Delay the Disease currently consists of two separate classes that meet at 11 a.m., a more basic class, and 2 p.m., a class with higher intensity exercises, on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. Wilson Health Therapy Services also provides support with therapists periodically for ongoing evaluation of the class participants.
McIntyre said she’s not aware of any similar programs in this area that continue year-round. “That is one important aspect with this program,” she said. “There’s no end, so everyone can continue to receive the benefits.”
The YMCA’s exercise program for individuals with Parkinson’s disease began in January of 2017 when an occupational therapy doctoral student, Erica Boerger, led classes for 15 weeks, to complete her doctoral program. Clark recalled that the participants liked the program so much, that they asked the Y to extend it. Participants are encouraged to exercise and stretch at home, said McIntyre, who gives them daily “homework” to do.
McIntyre urges everyone who is interested in the Delay the Disease program to call the Y at 937-492-9134. “Whether you’ve been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or have been battling it for years, this program can provide everyone with so many wonderful benefits.” Financial aid is also available for those who need it. “Our goal is to serve everyone in Sidney and Shelby County who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease who would like to participate,” she said.
McIntyre is enthusiastic about the program and hopes to help more people wage war against Parkinson’s.
“This has been the most rewarding class I’ve ever taught,” she said. “I’m grateful that the YMCA decided to provide this class as a service to the community.”
The writer is a retired Sidney Daily News reporter and a member of the Marketing Committee of the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA.