Class gets Parkinson’s patients moving

MIDDLEBURY — Area residents living with Parkinson’s disease can benefit from a new exercise program to be hosted by the EastView at Middlebury retirement community and at the town’s recreation facility.
It’s called “PushBack at Parkinson’s Disease,” a series of twice-per-week classes that will begin on Feb. 26 and end on April 25. Longtime local fitness trainer Kimberly Cobb is a trained PushBack coach who will lead the classes, with help from volunteers.
Middlebury is just the latest community to adopt the PushBack program, sponsored by the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Frederick C. Binter Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders. It’s a carefully crafted series of hour-long sessions tailored specifically to those battling Parkinson’s, a disease that occurs when nerve cells producing dopamine  — an important chemical in the brain — die or become impaired. Symptoms can include tremor or trembling of the hands, arms and other body parts, stiffness, slowness of movement, speech problems, impaired balance and coordination, and dementia.
UVM Medical Center officials in 2010 established what would become the PushBack program. Organizers noted data indicating exercise can delay onset of Parkinson’s and potentially delay disease progression by making more dopamine available to the body. In addition, they found exercise could enhance the brain’s motor control abilities, according to a recent Binter Center newsletter article explaining the PushBack program.
Cobb, a longtime physical trainer, has thus far confirmed five for the new Middlebury PushBack classes, slated for 1-2 p.m. on Tuesdays (at the town recreation center off Creek Road) and Thursdays (at EastView, off South Street Extension). Tuition is $160 for the eight-week session, though scholarships are available to help all eligible people attend, according to Cobb.
PushBack participants — or “players,” as they are called — must have a Parkinson’s diagnosis and must be pre-screened by a physical therapist or their physician to make sure they’re able to handle the rigors of the program. Candidates can schedule a screening with Porter Medical Center’s physical therapy department, according to Cobb.
There’s still time for more players to register for the upcoming session.
Cobb is looking forward to working with the group, learning their individual abilities and the exercises each should focus on.
While each player’s exercise regimen will depend on their respective needs, Cobb said activities will include such things as wall squats, wall angels, seated “burpees” and “clamshells.” All of these exercises are meant to improve stability, stamina, flexibility and agility — physical attributes that deteriorate with Parkinson’s.
Spending an hour together twice a week for two months tends to create a bond between the players and coach.
“It kind of makes it like a family,” Cobb said.
Cari Burkard, EastView’s director of sales & marketing, is pleased to see the facility host another important health program. EastView already hosts a variety of exercise options for its residents, some led by Cobb.
“As a non-profit organization, we’re looking for more opportunities to connect with the community, both as a dementia-care partner with various issues the elderly in the greater community are living with,” said Burkard.
Depending on demand, Cobb envisions PushBack being a offered on an ongoing basis in Middlebury, a community with two retirement communities and an aging demographic mirroring a statewide trend. PushBack “graduates” will be able to take the program over and over to maintain good fitness.
“Our hope is that people would continue doing it, that over time they could see themselves evolve and improve with exercises,” Cobb said. “The better they can mitigate their symptoms, the better it is for the person with Parkinson’s, their family and the community,” Cobb said.
Anyone who wants to enroll in PushBack or volunteer should reach Cobb, as soon as possible, at (802) 989-9724 or [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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