Music is helping Sally Smith find her groove.
In recent years, the tremors of Parkinson's disease have made many once-routine tasks a lot more difficult for the Topeka woman. She says she had trouble walking, sitting up straight and balancing.
She even struggled to get up from a chair, which made her feel left out at her Eagles Auxiliary meetings. When everyone else would stand to salute the flag, Sally says, she would always be sitting at the table.
Kansas Rehab therapist Karen Farron is helping Sally overcome those challenges. Many of the tools they use, though, fancy – scarves and balls for instance.
Farron says therapists at Kansas Rehab evaluate people’s strengths and people’s challenges and identify exercises to address them in a fun way. She says most people don't like to exercise, but if when told they'll feel like a kid again, it's a less threatening way to begin.
The fun does serve a serious purpose. Reaching for the scarves, for example, improves range of motion. A series of exercises with raquetballs works on coordination and grasping skills. The balls even helped Sally work to easily rise from a chair again. Ferron explains that bouncing the ball already has the weight shifted forward, and focusing on the bouncing of the ball helps a person complete the standing movement without thinking.
Many of the tasks are founded in rhythm. Working with an interactive metronome program helps patients like Sally see the reaction time in their movements. It’s a feeling that can be mimicked with music.
Ferron says Parkinson's patients in particular often have difficulty initiating movement. She says they know what they want to do but the information doesn’t translate into action. She says rhythm will help initiate movement without hesitation, which decreases the risk of falling and the feeling of frustration.
Using rhythm also helps reinforce new ways of doing familiar actions to improve function, like drawing or writing. Just a few days after learning new strategies for forming letters, Sally's writing went from illegible to clear.
Ferros says using exercises with concrete results offers another benefit. She says instead of telling a doctor they simply don't feel right, a patient can offer very specific information, such as the how much longer it takes to get up and down, or the number of steps it's now taking to cover a certain distance.
Sally says it’s working for her. She's noticed a marked improvement, and is proud she’s once again able to join in that show of patriotism, standing with her fellow group members to salute the flag.