Parkinson’s patients give disease a workout

Experts say exercise slows progression of illness, extends life

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter



If you go

• What: Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Walk.When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15.

• Where: Esther Short Park, 301 W. Eighth St., Vancouver.

• Cost: $20 per walker.

• Contact: or 800-426-6806.

Free Parkinson's resources

• Parkinson’s Fitness, 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursday, The Quarry Senior Living, 415 S.E. 177th Ave., Vancouver, 360-944-6000.

• Parkinson’s Movement Class, 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays (starts April 4) at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, 100 E. 33rd St., ($55 registration fee can be waived for those who can’t afford it.), 800-426-6806.

• Parkinson’s Hiking Group, scheduled at different times, call Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon at 800-426-6806.

• Parkinson’s Support Group, 10 a.m. second Wednesday of the month, The Quarry Senior Living, 415 S.E. 177th Ave., Vancouver, 360-944-6000.

• Parkinson’s Support Group, 1 p.m. third Friday of the month, Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, 2211 N.E. 139th St., Vancouver, 360-433-2676.

• Parkinson’s Support Group, 1 p.m. first Wednesday of the month, Touchmark at Fairway Village, 2911 Village Loop, Vancouver, 360-718-0720.

• Parkinson’s Caregiver Support Group, 1 p.m. Tuesdays, The Quarry Senior Living, 415 S.E. 177th Ave., Vancouver, 360-944-6000.

Don and Cathy Crowe started exercising shortly after they were married eight years ago. At that time, the Vancouver couple didn’t know that Don Crowe would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010 and that exercise would be a key part of his treatment plan.

“We started exercising before Parkinson’s disease, but I’m sure that has helped slow the progression,” said Don Crowe, 77. “It makes a big difference.”

Exercise, combined with medication, remains one of the primary treatments for managing Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system, according to experts.

Especially early on in the disease, exercise can slow the progression of disease, which is caused by the loss of the brain chemical dopamine. The disease can manifest itself differently from patient to patient. It’s most commonly associated with body tremors, stooped posture, shuffling, an unexpressive face and loss of fine-motor control. It often strikes in the mid-60s.

“There are basic signs and evidence in clinical studies that regular aerobic activity triggers activity in the brain that seems to be protective,” said Matt Brodsky, assistant professor of neurology at Portland’s Oregon Health & Science University.

That’s why Don Crowe continued his exercise routine after his diagnosis. Two years ago, he joined the Parkinson’s Fitness class at Vancouver’s The Quarry Senior Living. The class is offered free of charge to the public every Tuesday and Thursday to help develop strength, flexibility, balance, gait, communication and fine-motor skills.

Researchers at OHSU have seen the protective effect of cardiovascular exercise on the brain tissue of mice after they ran regularly on a treadmill for a period of four weeks, Brodsky said. The effects also have been noted in humans. People with good cardiovascular health who have the disease score better on cognitive and muscle tests and tend to live longer, according to researchers at Harvard University.

‘The Art of Moving’

Cathy Lauder, instructor of The Quarry’s Parkinson’s Fitness, leads participants in a series of exercises based on the methods of John Argue, who wrote “Parkinson’s Disease & The Art of Moving.” The class begins with about 30 minutes of pole walking in or around The Quarry, depending on the weather. Walking with poles helps with balance and working the upper body, Lauder said. Then, the group assembles in a circle and does a series of exercises with resistance bands, inflatable balls, tennis balls and chairs. Participants follow Lauder’s lead to tunes from the United Kingdom. Lauder is from England. Her descriptions of the exercises, combined with the music, evoke images of the English countryside.

“Stand and then move beside the chair,” Lauder said to a group of seven Thursday. “Soften your knees. Imagine a horse now between the knees. Arms scoop in. We have a whole lot of berries we’re gathering toward us.”

Vancouver resident Helen Ramatowski, 67, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in February 2011, said she does some kind of exercise every day, including Parkinson’s Fitness on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“If we didn’t do this, we’d be a lot worse,” Ramatowski said. “Exercise is the No. 1 thing to do for Parkinson’s.”

Lauder concludes the class with facial and vocal exercises, which help patients maintain their ability to communicate with facial expressions and swallow.

“Blow as if you’re blowing out candles,” she said. “Loosen up your lips and do horse noises.”

“You can’t imagine how difficult it is to have a conversation when there is no facial expression,” Lauder explained. “You realize how much you gain from watching facial expressions.”

Lauder said she is trying to introduce more tai chi moves in the class. The slow, rhythmical movements help Parkinson’s patients maintain better balance and strength compared with patients who do other forms of exercise, according to a February study by the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, Ore. The study was published in February in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Don Crowe said his balance has improved since starting the Parkinson’s Fitness class.

“His balance is better than mine,” his wife said.

There is a trove of local resources for people with Parkinson’s, including the free exercise classes at The Quarry and a free hiking group through Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon, which serves both Oregon and Southwest Washington. A 3-mile hike is scheduled for 9 a.m. today at the entrance of Portland’s Forest Park, 4099 N.W. Thurman St.

The Quarry offered one of the first few dedicated Parkinson’s assisted-living units in the nation, according to the National Parkinson’s Foundation. The unit opened in 2007.

It offers specialized services to its tenants, but it also has a philanthropic arm. The Quarry offers the fitness class, a support group and educational presentations to the public at no charge.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551;;;