Every year 60,000 people in this country are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Worldwide, it’s estimated ten million people suffer with this crippling illness. But there is hope that steady exercise might be a partial answer to keeping Parkinson’s patients mobile, steady and active longer.
Vern Tubergen is one of those patients. A retired ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Tubergen was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in April of 2012. Right after his diagnosis, his wife suggested he start a Pilates class to try to slow the progression of the disease.
“I think it helps you become more coordinated and balanced,” said Tubergen at a recent class at Community Hospital West’s Healthplex. “You’re never going to cure it this way, but it’s going to be helpful.”
So two days a week, he meets with class instructor Meggan Breen. She uses Pilates reformers to strengthen Tubergen’s core muscles and she believes he’s made progress.
“This helps. You can still do the things that you thought that your life was over. But it’s not over. You’re in control,” says Breen.
Breen has taken pictures of Tubergen over time using a go-pro camera. Her intent is to send the video to the Michael J. Fox foundation, so they can inspect it and possibly endorse Pilates as an exercise regime conducive for Parkinson’s patients. She has two other Parkinson’s patients using the Pilates methods.
The cause of Parkinson’s is unknown and there is no cure. It is an illness that primarily affects neurons in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.
Pilates is a physical fitness system developed in the early 20th century. It helps to condition the abdominal muscles of people to alleviate lower back pain. Those who practice it learn to concentrate, and control especially the abdomen, lower and upper back, hips, buttocks and inner thighs.
As for Tubergen, he will continue with his Pilates classes until he can’t. What does his neurologist say to him?
“Do it,” says Tubergen, with a slight smile.