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Parkinson's Wellness Program

People with Parkinson's disease often report difficulties with movement and communication, limiting their ability to perform tasks and participate in favorite activities.

Given these concerns, experts in the Parkinson's Center and Rehabilitation Medicine have instituted a program that combines comprehensive exercise and education to help patients achieve a better quality of life. Working simultaneously with physical, occupational, and speech therapists, program participants learn how to overcome some of the difficulties stemming from stiffness, uncontrollable movements, and communication issues that are common in Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's Wellness Program Brochure (PDF)

Early roots of the program

This wellness program was developed at Boston University's Center for Neurorehabilitation. Their research and other reported evidence suggests that people with Parkinson's can improve their day-to-day function through exercise and functional, task-oriented training. Staff members from our facility trained with the experts in Boston and returned to form a Wellness Program in late 2008.

How the program works

Each participant receives a manual and an exercise book to encourage practice at home. The program runs for six weeks, with sessions twice a week for one and a half hours each. Sessions are held at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center which is located at 46 Centerra Parkway in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Each participant also receives a one hour assessment before the program begins and at the end of the six week series to see their results and talk about how to maintain their progress. Our team focuses on individualizing the program for each participant, taking into account his or her current ability level and goals for enhanced mobility and communication.

Session emphasis

Sessions emphasize exercise, balance, and gait training:

  • Exercise: learn stretching, strengthening, and balance exercises with trained therapists by your side
  • Gait training: focus on "heel strike" and swinging arms evenly while walking to music; tempo gradually increases to step up speed, stride length and rhythm

Sessions also include:

  • Speech therapy: practice techniques to improve the strength of your voice, volume level, and breath support; therapist is certified in the scientifically proven Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT®/LOUD)
  • Discussion: address quality of life issues by developing three problem-solving approaches—change something about yourself, change the strategy you use, or change something about your environment; individuals share experiences at later sessions after using these strategies
  • Social interaction: each group that has completed the program has commented on how much they enjoy the social aspects of helping, encouraging, and laughing with each other while doing the activities

Exercise follow-up program

After completing the initial Wellness Program, participants are invited to join our ongoing DHMC Wellness Classes. These classes are for those who have benefited from various DHMC Rehabilitation Medicine programs and would like to maintain and enhance the gains they made in balance, strength, and/or flexibility. There are not specific start and end dates, allowing participants to come to one-hour sessions whenever they wish. Our therapists lead all sessions to make sure you are challenged but that the exercises are safe.

How to enroll

To participate in the Wellness Program, a person with Parkinson's must be able to:

  • Move about independently, with or without an assistive device
  • Get to and from a restroom independently
  • Follow directions and be able to stay for a one and half hour session
  • Get up and down from the floor with minimal assistance

To ensure that this program is appropriate and safe for you, your doctor will be asked to sign a "Medical Eligibility Form." Contact the Program Coordinator at the number below to receive a copy of this form. With your doctor's approval, you will be enrolled in the next available program. The cost is $149 per person; scholarships are available.

To register, contact:

Diane L. Sherman, PhD
Program Coordinator, Parkinson's Center at DHMC
(603) 653-6672

Keeping Parkinson's at Bay: Two Stories

The early symptoms of Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, are often mild enough to be mistaken for normal signs of aging.

That was true for Jim Seipel of Walpole, NH, when he took his motorcycle out for a ride during Bike Week in Florida back in 2008. "I got to the first stop sign and I had a hard time getting my feet off the foot pegs," says the retired merchant seaman. "I thought, 'What the heck is going on here?' I'd had trouble with arthritis before that, so I chalked it up to an arthritis flare up."

Read the full story.

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