CHELTENHAM >> The biggest improvement for Andy Saalfrank was balance. Ditto Ted Oslick. For Lou Cheifetz, it was endurance.
The three men were at Arcadia University’s five-day Movement Camp for Parkinson’s patients, the only program of its kind focusing on intensity over the duration of a short time.
A total of nine participants from the Dan Aaron Stay Fit program at Arcadia, a weekly exercise class for patients with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis that takes place throughout the year, were at the camp, comprising before and after assessments and intensive exercise to improve balance, flexibility and speed.
Eighteen physical therapy students and volunteers at the university were working with five faculty in the physical therapy department to guide the men through exercises, some with a touch of fun, such as fencing, boxing, dance and yoga.
“Last year I was falling three to four times a week,” said Saalfrank, of Franconia, taking a rest while walking on a treadmill to build up endurance. “I’m down to maybe once every six to eight weeks.”
“I think I’m doing better than before,” Cheifetz said. It was the second time the Hatboro resident had attended the camp, he said, noting the main benefit for him was “probably endurance.”
The progressive, neurologic disease results in poor balance, difficulty with walking, changes in muscle tone, slowness of movement, postural instability, tremors and softness of speech, said Carol Leiper, a professor emeritus of physical therapy, who led the participants in some fencing exercises.
“Medications can help modulate the condition, but there is no cure,” she said. There is a decrease in dopamine levels in the brain associated with the symptoms and the “medications enhance the use of dopamine to keep the system working.”
Parkinson’s disease affects one in 100 people over age 60, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Recent research indicates at least 1 million people in the United States, and more than five million worldwide, have Parkinson’s, the website says.
The cause is unknown, Leiper said. For some, there is a genetic component, and some were exposed to Agent Orange, “but for most, there is no known reason.”
Oslick, of Upper Dublin, was one of those exposed to Agent Orange when he served in Vietnam.
“There’s a huge benefit,” the retired pulmonologist said of the camp. “Balance is my weak point. I avoid falling at all costs.” The disease “changes your orientation; you have to change your way of life.”
The camp also helps with endurance, said Oslick, who also attends a boxing program to improve strength, endurance and coordination of the upper extremities.
Participants had their functionalities assessed at the beginning of the program on May 30 and their outcomes measured on June 3 to ascertain their progress prior to a dance celebration with their families. In six weeks, participants will have a second outcomes analysis to identify regression or improvement in their functionalities, the university said.
The Movement Camp, established four years ago, was the brainchild of physical therapy assistant professor Janet Readinger, said Kristin Von Nieda, an associate professor of physical therapy who helped set up the program.
“A group of students did research with us to find activities that had evidence of being beneficial,” Von Nieda said. “We didn’t know if an intensive exercise program was feasible. It was such a success, we kept it going.”