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Classes provide hope to those with Parkinson’s Disease

Personal trainer Susan Podsedly Rush Copley HealthPlex instructs her  parkinsaerobics class work finger exercises Thursday April 4 2013 AurorIL

Personal trainer Susan Podsedly of Rush Copley HealthPlex instructs her parkinson aerobics class to work on finger exercises on Thursday April 4, 2013 in Aurora IL at Rush Copley HealthPlex. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media

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Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s

• tremors or shaking

• soft voice

• loss of smell

• sudden decrease in size of handwriting

• difficulty with sleeping

• stiffness in shoulders or hips

For a full list and descriptions see: ttp://

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Updated: April 23, 2013 3:59PM

When Aurora resident Lynn McHale was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, she immediately checked local hospitals for support groups. To her delight what she found at Rush-Copley Medical Center wasn’t just emotional support, but also a program that bolsters her body against the physical advances of the disease.

Thanks to a generous donor, three years ago Rush-Copley began offering free exercise classes and other services for those with Parkinson’s. “For people who have Parkinson’s, getting out and staying active is important,” says Donna Sperlakis, movement disorders program coordinator at Rush-Copley.

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative condition in which dopamine-producing brain cells have been destroyed. People with the disease slowly lose motor function and can experience a lack of emotion or lowered mood. But research shows that exercise, in particular treadmill training, stretching and resistance exercises, improves brain function and halts the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms.

At the Rush-Copley Healthplex on Route 34 (Ogden Avenue) in Aurora, exercise programs for those with Parkinson’s include two levels of exercises classes, a water exercise class, and a water Tai Chi class. Exercises focus on such areas as balance, flexibility, coordination, and gait. Trainers work to include specific movements and methods for Parkinson’s patients based off the nationally-known Delay the Disease program.

“We start with general stretching exercises. And we do voice exercises, because people with Parkinson’s can get a soft voice,” McHale explains.

All exercises in the class aim to counter the effects of Parkinson’s on things like walking speed, stride length and overall balance. And many can be replicated at home so that participants can continue to work out every day.

With trainers who are passionate about what they do, class members arrive eager to participate.

“I like that the instructors come up with different activities and exercises,” says McHale. “It’s not the same thing every time.”

The program at Rush-Copley sees more than 100 participants each week across all of its movement disorders services. Many have been attending since the program’s inception. And often people find they appreciate the social aspects of the exercise classes as much as the physical benefits.

“One of the big things is being able to be with other people and socialize and make new friends,” says McHale. “The class has inspired me to do more … It makes you want to go back and keep on going.”

Sperlakis describes the atmosphere in the classes as light-hearted. And she enjoys seeing participants help each other out.

“It’s pretty amazing to see how they work together to make sure that everybody is able to do the exercises,” she said.

As for the physical outcomes, Sperlakis said an informal survey of participants found that almost all saw improvements in their condition since joining the classes.

“It has been successful because it gives them back control,” she explains. “They know that there is research about the benefits of exercise.”

Sperlakis encourages anyone with Parkinson’s who is interested in the program to come check it out.

McHale agrees. “The more you can learn, the more you can socialize, the more you realize you are not alone,” she said.

Rush-Copley continues to add programs for those with movement disorders, with a new art therapy class starting in May. The hope is that it will help participants process the emotions surrounding their disease and they will benefit from cognitive improvement and stress-relief.

McHale appreciates what Rush-Copley is doing for her through the free classes. “I feel I am doing better and delaying the onset by being able to go to these classes,” she said. “You get an overall sense of well-being and that you’re doing something proactive for yourself.”

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