Three days a week, Pat Murney dons a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt and heads to a movement class at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Manhattan. “It helps me walk lighter, quicker and more coordinated and gives me more peace of mind,” said the 70-year-old retired psychotherapist.
Pat is participating in a novel community-based wellness program for Parkinson’s patients created by New York university’s Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center (NYU-PMDC), a National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) Center of Excellence, in partnership with the JCC. In the two years she’s been taking classes at the center, Pat has seen an improvement in her flexibility and strength, and mood and energy levels; additionally, she now catches herself before falling.
“People are telling us that they feel more confident on their feet and have a better sense of their body and how they move,” said Amy C. Lemen, LCsW, supervisor of supportive and Wellness services at NYU-PMDC. “Through exercise, support and education, the program is designed to help rebuild a sense of hope, control and self-efficacy in people’s lives.” Established in 2007, the wellness program aims to extend Parkinson’s care beyond the clinic walls by providing people with Parkinson’s the opportunity to be more active, social and creative in their own communities. Parkinson’s fitness and education classes as well as support groups and wellness events are offered on a daily basis at the JCC.
“We wanted to build a bridge into the community, so that people would feel more empowered in their daily lives and to get out and be more active and to meet others. so much of Parkinson’s can feel like reacting to something that is going wrong, but this program offers an opportunity to be proactive, to feel like you’re doing something right,” Lemen said.
For Pat, who was diagnosed four years ago, taking such classes as NIA dance (a combination dance and stretching modality), Alexander Technique and rhythm and Functional Movement have gone a long way toward aiding her daily effort to control symptoms and feel better about herself. “It’s a circle, if your mood is better you move better, and if you move better your mood is better,” she explained. And there’s little question that the sense of community she has encountered has helped her deal with the ongoing challenge of Parkinson’s. “In every class there’s a lot of laughing and fun, which is so welcome,” Pat said. “I’m a lot more hopeful.” For many people, like Pat, a change in outlook may be the best way to keep moving forward.
"Often patients express to me that they feel like something has been taken away from them. We're striving to help them reframe that idea, to say that there is a way to adapt and to live well. It takes effort, but knowing you're not alone helps, " Lemen said.
For Pat and her battle with Parkinson’s disease the message is simple—don’t let it slow you down. “We are convinced that we can help people with Parkinson’s have a higher quality of life right now, and NPF is a real innovator and beacon that says ‘look we think you are doing good things, how can we help,’” Lemen said. “We can’t do everything on our own, but we can help build the networks with terrific partners that can branch out and be really effective for people.”