Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Exercise therapy proves arrow in arsenal against Parkinson's

Sessions, support help change lives

By Nancy Young
Enquirer contributor

BLUE ASH - When Jerry Wuest was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 25 years ago, he was a married father of five young children. The diagnosis was devastating for the Monfort Heights native.

[photo] Marilyn Miracle (right), 71, of Madeira, who has had Parkinson's for 30 years, plays volleyball at Brookwood Retirement Center in Sycamore Township last week. William Allison (left), 76, has had the disease for 12 years.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Now, Mr. Wuest says, "Parkinson's is the best thing that could have happened to me. It has made me a better person and made me care about other people. Attitude is everything in dealing with this disease."

Each year, more than 60,000 people nationwide are diagnosed with Parkinson's, a degenerative neurological disease characterized by muscle rigidity, or "freezing,'' and tremors. More than 1.5 million Americans, including an estimated 25,000 in the Tristate, have the condition.

Mr. Wuest credits much of his success in dealing with Parkinson's to exercise sessions led by Dorian Brown. Ms. Brown is an occupational therapist based at Brookwood Retirement Community in Sycamore Township who has gained national recognition for developing a new approach in treatment of Parkinson's patients.

Her twice-weekly classes at Brookwood and Western Hills Retirement Village bring together patients of all ages and abilities.

Initially, patients may do exercises from a chair, followed by work with parallel bars. They move up to throwing and kicking balls. Eventually, they play spirited games of chair volleyball. Families and caregivers are encouraged to join in.

"We see almost immediate results from the classes," says Ms. Brown. "They help patients improve their reflexes, balance, reduce `freezing' and help them safely transfer from one position to another. Just as importantly, the classes provide social and emotional therapy.

"The participants' positive attitudes are contagious. They often go out to dinner afterwards, and it's a tremendous help to be able to discuss the disease with people who live through the same symptoms every day."

An artist, sculptor and writer, Ms. Brown was working as special activities therapist at Riverside Hospital in Toledo when she was asked to start a support group for Parkinson's patients. With no medical background, she focused on providing education, socialization and support. The group soon grew to more than 100 members.

At age 50, she went to college to become an occupational therapist. That was 15 years ago.

Ms. Brown moved to Greater Cincinnati seven years ago to be closer to her daughter and three grandchildren. She met Jerry and Sandy Wuest.

"The Wuests have given substantial time and money to create the Parkinson's Disease Support Network of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana," she says.

The Wuests recently joined actor Michael J. Fox in lobbying Washington for Parkinson's funding. They couple also help refer people to the exercise classes.

"I retired in January and was diagnosed with Parkinson's in July," says Catherine Werk of Montgomery. "I am an avid bowler, and weakness on my left side and constant lethargy meant my scores were down to the 150s. I had lost all stamina and enthusiasm.

"But Dorian's therapy and her exercise classes have made all the difference. I am enjoying walking my dog again. I am back to bowling over 200. I feel so much more alive."

The classes meet Tuesdays, 5:30-6:30 p.m., at Brookwood Retirement Center, 12100 Reed Hartman Highway, and Thursdays, 5:30-6:30 p.m., at Western Hills Retirement Village, 6210 Cleves-Warsaw Pike, Delhi. Information: Dorian Brown, 605-2000, or Jerry and Sandy Wuest, (800) 950-4219.

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