Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital therapy program helping patients get ahead of Parkinson's symptoms

Parkinson's disease robs the brain of an essential chemical called dopamine, changing the way patients are able to move.
MALVERN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Approximately one million Americans are living with Parkinson's disease - a degenerative brain disorder. But there's local therapy program that is working to help patients get ahead of their symptoms.

Don Fair, 92, is fighting back against Parkinson's, step by step. The disease robs the brain of an essential chemical called dopamine, changing the way patients like Don move.

While Parkinson's can cause tremors, or rigidity in the arms and legs, it gave Don other movement problems.

"Probably the biggest is my balance. I have no balance," he said.

It also changed how he perceives movement.

"Sometimes individuals produce smaller movements, shuffling steps, rounded posture. And they feel like they're producing the right amplitude of the movement, but it's slow," said Jennifer Dolnycky, physical therapist.

To correct that, Don is in a therapy program at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital specifically for Parkinson's patients.

Physical therapist Jennifer Dolnycky says it includes what's called LSVT Big exercises.

"This really reinforces larger movements, bigger steps. And there are seven exercises that they can continue at home when we're done," she said.

"They like you to do it every day," added Don.

Dolnycky says consistent, intense exercise is important to preserve mobility and function.

"You want to get ahead of the symptoms, so they don't become a problem. So the earlier the better," she said.

In fact, patients should begin right after diagnosis.

Bryn Mawr Rehab uses other specialized exercise programs, plus occupational and speech therapy, and has a monthly support group geared to a patient's individual needs. And the hospital connects with programs at YMCAs and fitness centers to keep people like Don moving.

"The people here are very patient and they know what speed you work at," said Don.
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