Northwestern Medicine Helps Parkinson’s Patients Fight Back
Sometimes a left hook is just what the doctor ordered.
Paula Weiner, for one, is looking forward to finding out. The Chicago resident was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago when she noticed a tremor in her hand that wouldn’t go away. Since that day Weiner has been more active than ever, taking art classes and becoming a t’ai chi coach. Every Monday she takes a bus down Lake Shore Drive to lead her class.
“It’s all about staying active,” said Weiner, who is 78 years old. “I’ve done water aerobics and I’ll try boxing. Sitting around doing nothing may be easier, but it’s certainly not going to help me in the long run.”
Weiner is part of a Northwestern Medicine Parkinson’s disease support group that will host a special boxing class for those with the disease and their caregivers at 1:00 p.m. on Jan. 7. The class will be led by Rock Steady Boxing instructors who are specially trained to teach boxing drills and routines to people living with Parkinson’s disease.
Between 30 and 40 people are expected to attend the class, said Pamela Palmentera, coordinator and clinical social worker for the Northwestern Medicine Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center.
“Every day we are learning about new ways people living with Parkinson’s can enhance their quality of life,” Palmentera said. “It turns out boxing is one of those perfect workouts for both the mind and body. These classes have proven that anyone, at any level of Parkinson’s, can actually lessen their symptoms and lead a healthier and happier life.”
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive degenerative disorder that affects nerve cells, or neurons, in the part of the brain that controls movement. In Parkinson’s disease, a certain group of nerve cells in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine dies. The lack of dopamine causes the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease—tremor, slowness of movement, muscle stiffness, and balance problems.
There are more than one million people in the United States diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and more than 60,000 people are diagnosed each year. Rock Steady Boxing is the first boxing gym in the country dedicated to the fight against the disease.
“Patient care is much more than just medical; it’s caring for the whole person,” said Tanya Simuni, MD, a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, The National Parkinson’s Foundation center of excellence. “Parkinson’s patients may not have total control of their disease but they can control how they let the disease affect them. Activities such as boxing have great psychological and physical benefits. We are hoping to help these patients find new means of fulfillment in their lives while also addressing some of the physical components of their illness.”
Northwestern’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center is the only National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence in Illinois. The center provides innovative, multidisciplinary care, while also conducting research to extend knowledge and treatment of movement disorders. There is an emphasis on education and support for patients, families, caregivers, healthcare providers, and the community.
The Center hosts a free support group at 11:00 a.m. the first Tuesday of every month at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. These meetings include presentations, open-ended discussions, and sharing. Visitors and guests are always welcome. For more information about the support group, click here or call Pamela Palmentera at (312) 503-4397.