Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease was a shock, but giving up is not an option a small group of area residents will consider.
The group has created a club they call the Perky Parkies. They meet for 90-minute sessions twice a week at SaddleBrooke, where Neurorehabilitation Anthropologist Vera Shury helps them learn to control their bodies.
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the brain that leads to shaking and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination.
However, the five men participating in the Perky Parkies summer group appear to be in good control of their bodies.
Shury’s goal is to teach each of her students how to take control. It’s about teaching those impacted by the disease to do normal everyday things that others might take for granted, things like turning over in bed, staying in a chair without falling, concentrating and taking normal steps without falling, and taking the necessary steps that will allow them to keep driving a car.
“This is different from your average exercise class,” said Shury. “We work the eyes, the head, the neck, the fingers and every other muscle.”
For Roger Godfrey, 77, having Parkinson’s disease goes beyond struggling with tremors in the body; it also impacts his speech and vision.
“It affects all individuals differently,” he said. “This group gets me to do these exercises. Even during the water break I work to hold and squeeze a football. As a group, this just makes us do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do.”
Most people diagnosed with Parkinson’s are over the age of 50, making the disease one of the most common nervous system disorders of the elderly.
Godfrey was diagnosed in 1998. He joined the Perky Parkies class in 2004, when Shury first started offering it in Oro Valley and SaddleBrooke.
Bobby Black, 78, joined the group for a variety of reasons, but having the support of others going through the same experience is one of the major benefits.
“The medication just gets you down,” he said. “That’s a huge concern. You don’t want to get down. You want to be up. You want to have fun. This class is kind of like a spiritual guide.”
Several of the members said other groups they’ve tried aren’t about getting up and moving around, and just don’t have the focus on living despite the disease that they are looking for.
Bill Coffee, 71, said Perky Parkies provides him with an incentive to get out of bed.
“You have to get off your tail and work,” he said. “If you just lay on the couch depressed, you’re only going to get worse.”
Coffee bragged about the results he is seeing, noting last month he shot a hole-in-one on the golf course.
“We all celebrated,” he said. “There is a great camaraderie here. It’s just too easy to get depressed because it’s a progressive disease, but if you get up and get on with it, you can salvage it.”
In starting the therapy, Shury said one of the biggest concerns for the members is falling.
“They have to learn balance,” she said. “With Parkinson’s, your movement is less. This class is like a rehearsal to get things back to normal range.”
Shury doesn’t let up on the group either. The 90-minute session is packed with such as exercises as doing squats for a set time against the wall, and walking without stepping inside rings placed along the floor. The latter re-teaches the members how to take normal-sized steps.
While working out the body, Shury keeps the group talking and working on speech therapy. While lifting weights up and down behind the neck, the group follows Shury’s lead in chanting, “A, E, I, O, U, lips, teeth, tongue, hair.”
The members couldn’t say enough about Shury, expressing their gratitude to what she brings to the class each week.
“She is just phenomenal,” said Coffee.
Fred Taylor, 66, said anyone with the disease needs these group settings.
“It keeps me exercising, keeps up my mobility, and with these guys you just want to keep up the work,” he said.
Victor Garcia, 74, is the newest member of the group. After being diagnosed last year, Garcia said he found out about Perky Parkies six months ago.
“I am really learning about my mind and body, and I am making some new friends too,” he said. “They think about you because they are going through the same thing, or have gone through it.”
Oftentimes, Shury said a person will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s but they don’t realize what it means or what they can do. A group like Perky Parkies is not just about exercising and learning how Parkinson’s attacks the body, but also about providing group therapy.
“I now have a goal,” said Garcia. “This gives me happiness; I am not lost anymore.”
Shury said seeing the progress firsthand makes her job worth the hard work.
Taylor joined the class five years ago and couldn’t open his hand, couldn’t buckle a seatbelt or drive.
“Now, he’s driving his car, playing table tennis, and beating 16 out of 20 healthy people in a tournament,” Shury stated proudly.
Like with many diseases, Shury said her students have their good days and bad days, but the point of Perky Parkies is to work through it all.
“By being together they are getting suggestions and getting encouragement,” she said. “Even when they aren’t feeling well, we encourage them to come to class. The myth is you will only go downhill after diagnosis. It’s true, symptoms continue, but you can move forward.”
For Shury, keeping her students motivated in the summer session is obviously not difficult. Many of them are retired military; Garcia retired after 30 years of serving in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Godfrey retired from IBM, where he taught people how to fix equipment.
The group works hard, and eagerly follows Shury’s directions class after class.
Black said one of the goals now is to get the word out to other residents who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and show them support is out there.
Anyone interested in joining Shury’s program can contact her at email@example.com or call at 275-8755.
For more info
For information on the program contact:
Vera Shury at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 275-8755.