Fighting Parkinson’s Every Day

I used to say I knew people in show business, now I say I know people with Parkinson’s. Barry Blaustein

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_756fBarry Blaustein joined our boxing class a couple of years ago, not long after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  It was clear from the outset that Barry is a fighter, in so many ways.  With flowing white hair and a big smile, he attacked the heavy bags with glee.  His strength and skill on the heavy bags impressed everyone in our little group.  Barry fit right in immediately.

His story, like so many of ours, takes a circuitous route.   Barry lost his sense of smell 7-8 years ago.  Then began dragging his feet.  His voice was getting lower and he just seemed sluggish.   He did not know that these were symptoms of Parkinson’s.  First, Barry saw his regular doctor, who dismissed his symptoms and said that he did not have Parkinson’s.

The symptoms persisted, so Barry made an appointment with a Neurologist at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles.  The doctor there put him through the routine for diagnosing PD, walk down the hallway, open and close  your fingers, tap your foot, etc. and quickly confirmed that Barry did have Parkinson’s.  Since no one else in his family had PD, this was a surprise.  As Barry says, he is the pioneer in his family.

The doctor recommended that he exercise 30-35 minutes a day. Barry’s fiancee  looked up classes on the internet and found boxing classes for PD (StoPD).  He took boxing lessons when he was younger and knew he had fun doing it, so decided to give it a try.  Barry also walks 30-40 minutes or bikes, and goes to Pilates a couple days a week.  He usually exercises 7 days a week,  but occasionally takes a day off.  However he has recently developed sciatica,  which Barry says is much worse than Parkinson’s.

“People with Parkinson’s are fighters”

He asked his doctor once why he chose to treat Parkinson’s, the doctor said “People with Parkinson’s are fighters”.   Barry agrees.  “We don’t sit back and do nothing.  I didn’t do anything to get Parkinson’s (unlike many other diseases) If I had cancer and  smoked cigarettes, I would say I shouldn’t have smoked.  If I had heart problems or a heart attack, maybe I should have lost some weight.  But I didn’t do anything to cause PD.”

He is fortunate that he gets more sleep, unlike many others with PD.   Melatonin works for him and helps him to sleep better.  Otherwise, he takes Sinimet (Levadopa/Carbidopa) only. His tremor has gotten a little worse, but he notices it more than other people.  He also gets more tired,  but that could be from getting older.  His handwriting, which was always terrible, has gotten really bad.  Now he says  “I will write stuff and then will look at it and think, what the heck was I doing”.  Usually he types and if he starts to shake, he will stop and exaggerate the shake and shake it off.

Having Parkinson’s doesn’t really affect his work.   After a long career as a film writer and director, he turned to teaching screen writing at a local university.  For the last 7 years, he has been primarily a college professor.  He tells his students he has PD, always making the same speech at the beginning of a semester:  “I have Parkinson’s so if you see me shake, that’s a tremor from Parkinson’s, so don’t worry about it. If my voice gets low, just tell me to raise my voice, if I say anything really mean to you, that’s not the Parkinson’s, its exactly how I feel about you.  They all laugh.”  He approaches it with humor which puts them at ease.

Recently, he went back to writing scripts and along with his writing partner David Sheffield, he just wrote a new movie for Paramount:  COMING 2 AMERICA,  a sequel to COMING TO AMERICA, that the two of them wrote 30 years ago.   “They didn’t know it was being written by a guy who has Parkinsons”

This past year, Barry has gotten involved with the Parkinson’s community.   Last fall, he was a speaker at the Parkinson’s Foundation Walk in Los Angeles. He had participated in a few walks before and his daughter got very active with the Parkinson’s Foundation as a result.  She created some background materials about Barry to send to them.  After meeting with with Barry, they asked if he would be interested in speaking publicly for them.  He went to a workshop a couple of weeks ago and was asked to become a spokesperson for the Foundation.   He will be going to speak around the country, do some PSA’s (Public service announcements) and other things.  As he says, he is the new “Jerry’s Kid”.  He used to say, “I knew people in show business, now I say I know people with Parkinson’s.”

What does the future look like for him?  So far he has made no major changes in his life,  but knows he will eventually have to consider making a move because he lives upstairs in a duplex, and the stairs can become a problem.   He is looking forward to speaking on behalf of the Parkinson’s Foundation, and becoming more involved with the Parkinson’s community.

I asked if knowing People with Parkinson’s has changed his life.  He went to a support group once but didn’t find it all that helpful.  He said that too often, people are just griping.  However, Barry said the people in the boxing class are very brave. “I wish our boxing group got together every once in awhile and talked about our lives.  We are more than just our disease.”   What a great idea!  Let’s make it happen.

boxing-gloves

PD Boxing Packs a Punch

Find what moves you and fight for it.  Michelle Lao

Boxing coach Michelle Lao has written a guest column for Twitchy Woman about the benefits of boxing for PwP’s.  She has also created a short film about Boxing for PD titled On The Ropes:  Battling Parkinson’s Disease.  Several of the boxers that I work out with are featured in the film.  Click on the link below to watch.

It is incredibly ironic that a sport like boxing, often associated with being a contributor to Parkinson’s Disease, can also stop the advancement of it. There was always a strong correlation within the boxing community, that the constant blows to the head caused Parkinson’s. If the correlations are true, then the poison can also be the antidote. Boxing training places a heavy demand on the body which aides in re-establishing lost connections and building new ones within the neuronal circuitry. By learning a new sport, you are acquiring a new skill set that helps to increase neuroplasticity. With my PD fighters, I have seen countless mind body connections being made in boxing. These connections formed have slowed down the progression of Parkinson’s Disease. Here are the physical benefits that I have seen in my fighters:

  • Restoring loss of function in fine motor skills and gross motor movements.
  • Increase improvements in balance, coordination, gait, range of movement (flexibility), and proprioception (awareness of the body in terms of space)
  • Decrease in the slowness of initiating movement, in muscle tone (rigidity), and in frequency of involuntary movements (tremors)
  • Better sleep

Boxing can help improve cognition. Although boxing is a full body workout, it is also a cerebral sport. In my classes, boxing is used to sharpen the mind. My PD boxers have to be able to quickly adapt, predict, track and execute precision in movement and timing. When training, my boxers are constantly recalling combinations and patterns whether it’s by verbal or physical feedback. By engaging in these boxing drills, my boxers have shown significant cognitive improvements in the following areas:

  • Increase in executive function, memory and thinking
  • Improvement in verbal communication
  • Decrease in cognitive delays
  • Less confusion, more focus

I approach fitness more holistically. I believe that wellness creates a well-being. I find that my boxers have been able to find a community of people that they can relate to without having to explain the hurdles of their disease. Everyone is on the same playing field. PD boxing classes have helped my fighters manage their disease at an emotional level and the benefits are countless. Here are a few boxing benefits for emotional well-being:

    • Empowerment. You own the disease; it doesn’t own you.
    • Confidence. You know what your body can do for you and you can seize the day with it.
    • Cathartic. You can release all your stresses by punching it out.
    • Camaraderie. You gained a supportive network of friends who motivate and encourage you.
    • Independence. You no longer need to rely on others for help as much.
    • Improved quality of life. You are less depressed and can live a fuller life.

As much as boxing can be rewarding on a physical, cognitive, and emotional level, it also needs to be fun and engaging. If you do not find enjoyment in the movement program you participate in, then you will not benefit from it. Find what moves you and fight for it.

On the Ropes: Battling Parkinson’s Disease from Drastic on Vimeo.

According to the New York Times….

Exercise Can Be a Boon to People With Parkinson’s Disease

No kidding…….I have written many times about the benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson’s Disease, as have my fellow Parkinson’s bloggers.  An article in yesterday’s New York Times reiterates much of what I have said before.  The author says: “For Parkinson’s patients in particular, regular exercise tailored to their needs can result in better posture; less stiffness; improved flexibility of muscles and joints; faster and safer walking ability; less difficulty performing the tasks of daily living; and an overall higher quality of life.”  If you are like me and exercise regularly to help improve your symptoms, you already knew that.

I can attest to the benefits of exercise for me, especially since I am returning today from an 18 day cruise.  While I tried to exercise daily, it is hard to maintain a routine while traveling and by the end of the trip I could really feel the difference; my body was just not in sync.  So my body and I are both looking forward to getting back to yoga, boxing and the other activities that keep us moving.

I have found that regular yoga helps with flexibility and balance and boxing builds strength, endurance and agility.  The combination of the two has wIMG_0386orked well for me (and many others).  They make a huge difference in performance in other areas like tennis — better footwork, faster response times and even in seeing the ball better. Most importantly, I just feel better overall.

BUT do not start an exercise program without consulting your doctor first, especially if you have not been exercising.  Your doctor may want you to begin an exercise program by working with a Physical Therapist to establish a baseline for you and to help you learn exercises that will be beneficial for your specific needs.  And don’t forget getting motivated,  Working with a personal trainer provides one kind of motivation through personal attention; group classes provide a different kind of positive social reinforcement.  Find the mix that works best for you.

And don’t forget to exercise your brain; doing puzzles, playing cards or practicing with a musical instrument.  I may have found a new mental exercise in getting reintroduced to playing Bridge during our cruise. During days at sea we joined the daily beginners classes in the morning, and often played with the group in the afternoon as well.  Bridge, more than any other card game I have played, requires total concentration and attention to the every aspect of the game.  And the game’s conventions have changed dramatically since we learned to play over 40 years ago.   I hope that relearning the game almost from scratch will provide new and fun mental exercise (boxing for the brain??) and improve my mental concentration the way phsyical exercise has helped my body.

Hopefully we will find a way to continue to play Bridge now that we’re home and that it will find its own regular place in my daily or weekly routine (without becoming another Parkinson’s obsession).  Introducing and maintaining changes in those routines while keeping everything in balance is itself a challenge that we should look forward to meeting.hand35-b

Borrowing from other Diseases

“Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still.”
Chinese Proverb

The other day I ran into a friend who has MS.    She too, has been told to exercise to improve her boxing-glovessymptoms.  She goes to regular, not adaptive, yoga classes and swims.  We talked about the boxing for PD classes that I attend and the benefits of this type of exercise.  During the course of  our conversation, we both were curious to find out if classes designed for people with Parkinson’s would be beneficial for people with other neurological diseases.  So . . . .

A brief internet search found several articles about exercise for both diseases.  The goals of exercise for both PD and MS is to increase mobility, improve muscle tone, balance, reflexes and core strength.  In many cases, the same exercises were recommended for both conditions, whether it is Pilates, strength training, yoga or swimming.

For those of you who are teaching exercise classes for PD or MS, do you have any insights or suggestions for people seeking a trainer or class?  Have you had MS patients attend your yoga, boxing or dance for PD classes with any success?  Or, are the needs so different in these two populations, making it difficult to have them in the same classes?

Please share what you’ve learned.

home-dtpd-1
Invertigo Dance Theater
I