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Fighting Parkinson’s through boxing, more

By Megan Kennedy mkennedy@civitasmedia.com

April 1, 2014

Tuesday, April 1 marked the beginning of a month-long effort to increase awareness of Parkinson’s Disease in Preble County.


Jim Straszheim, the facilitator of a Parkinson’s Support Group with the Preble County Council on Aging, was diagnosed with a central tremor in 1999, which later regressed into Parkinson’s Disease. Straszheim has had two Deep Brain Stimulation’s to reduce the side effects of Parkinson’s Disease. The disease effects the brain in three ways, according to Straszheim; physical, mental, and vocal.


Ashley Moman, an athletic trainer at Reid Hospital in Richmond, Indiana says a program at the hospital, “Reid Rock Steady,” has been serving the region since August 2013.


“Boxing works by moving your body in all planes of motion while continuously changing the routine as you progress through the workout. These classes have proven that anyone, at any level of Parkinson’s, can actually lessen their symptoms and lead a healthier/happier life. Rock Steady classes are divided into four levels based upon each person’s unique Parkinson’s symptoms and overall level of fitness,” according to the program’s website.


Since the program’s inception, trainers have noticed increased participation in the group. “It’s not just boxing,” said Moman. “It’s the type of workout a boxer might go through. Cardio, we do some balance stuff, some actual boxing stuff. But then in addition to that, we also do like Parkinson’s-specific things. We work on voice activation … we work on fine motor skills, and some other things that Parkinson’s people deal with. So it’s pretty much a work out, and from what we’ve been told by a neurologist in Indianapolis and some other research is that intense physical exercise helps slow the progression of the disease.”


Parkinson’s Disease has no known cause, in that it strikes its victims at random. The disease also affects individuals differently. The disease may cripple the healthiest of individuals, and render them fighting for their everyday functions back. Parkinson’s causes dopamine-secreting cells in the brain to die, limiting the victim’s muscle movement.


“Until I had the surgery, I was able to control the tremors quite a bit, but it was very difficult … In a way it shakes your self confidence, but you’ve got to keep working at it. You’ve got to do the physical part of it, you’ve got to do the mental and the vocal. I mean, there’s no cure and you hope there will be, you know … you feel self-conscious about it and you’re out and shaking … you get all excited because everybody’s looking at you and it builds on you,” said Straszheim.


“It’s important to have a good family to support you, which I do.”


Parkinson’s symptoms begin as “something you can live with,” said Straszheim, until the symptoms begin to snowball into a hindrance. Medications are available for those who are suffering with Parkinson’s, however, often times the symptoms are dangerous and uncomfortable. “It’s a very complex and difficult disease to treat because it affects everybody differently,” said Straszheim.


Nan Erbaugh, the wife of David Erbaugh, explains the adjustments her family has gone through to cope with Parkinson’s Disease. David’s Parkinson’s Disease was diagnosed in 2007, although Nan believes David began demonstrating symptoms earlier. David, previously a case manager at Preble County Job and Family Services, has a masters degree and is a Vietnam Veteran. Nan knew there had been a change in her husband, when she began noticing her husband’s earliest symptom, a dramatic lean forward. Parkinson’s Disease affects an individual’s sense of gravity, causing them to either lean forward or backward, and not notice.


“When I think about the value of Rock Steady Boxing for Parkinson’s, first and foremost the goal is to preserve and enhance the quality of life for the Parkinson’s patients. Hopefully the wide-ranging exercises will slow the progression of the disease. Records are kept on each participant in order to chart progress. A complete assessment is done every six months,” said Nan Erbaugh.


“Even though my husband has Parkinson’s and I’m close to the effects day in and day out, I do not presume to completely understand how terribly frustrating it must be for the Parkinson’s patients themselves. As I watch them punch those boxing bags, I often wonder if it is a great release of frustration and stress for them … the greatest benefit [of the program] of all is the close fellowship of everyone involved. The emotional support is priceless.”


Straszheim believes there are between 90-100 people in Preble County who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease. Straszheim said the biggest barrier between those living with Parkinson’s Disease and their negligence to join the support group meetings is self-consciousness.


“They fail to realize that everybody’s going to get something, [Parkinson’s is] just so visible,” said Straszheim.


For those who are interested, Parkinson’s Disease support group meetings occur the third Thursday of the month at 4 p.m. at the Preble County Senior Center.