Reeling in the Effects of Parkinsons Disease
Threading a fishing line and loading a hunting rifle require steady hands and intricate finger movements. So these tasks are more difficult when you’re living with hand tremors and decreasing fine motor skills.
And this is exactly what Jason Rops has had to overcome to continue enjoying his two favorite pastimes—hunting and fishing—since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition that affects a person’s nervous system and leads to movement disorders. Symptoms and side effects of the disease include:
• Tremors, often in the hands
• Slowed movement and shorter/smaller movements n Rigid muscles and loss of muscle control
• Impaired balance
• Changes in speech that result in a soft, muffled or monotone voice
And since it develops gradually, symptoms of Parkinson’s may go unnoticed at first.
“Looking back, I remember being about 16 years old when my friends started noticing that sometimes my hands would shake,” Jason says.
“But at that age, I didn’t think anything of it.”
There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but many medications are available that can significantly reduce the symptoms. So that is how Jason has been managing his condition for the past six years. However, the tremors still occurred on occasion.
“I was a state correctional officer for 17 years, but my tremors started to affect the respect I received from the inmates—they thought my shaking meant I was scared of them,” Jason says. “And unexpected loss of muscle control made supervising unruly inmates difficult.”
Because of this, Jason took medical retirement, and he became motivated to find additional ways to manage his Parkinson’s.
The LSVT BIG Program
In 2014, Jason found another solution to control his symptoms—the LSVT (Lee Silverman Voice Treatments) BIG Program at Reedsburg Area Medical Center (RAMC). He became RAMC’s first participant after his primary care doctor, Dr. Debbie Ondersma, suggested it to him.
"We determine what the specific needs are, and then tailor the progression of the therapy accordingly. LSVT BIG is a therapy based solution for Parkinson’s patients looking to increase the amplitude or ‘bigness’ of their movements,” says Paula Weiss, OTR, occupational therapist at RAMC who worked with Jason. “By working on making movements bigger, the program also helps with other symptoms like increasing the speed of movement and balance control.”
Jason attended LSVT BIG sessions four consecutive days a week for four weeks. During the first session, he was timed while performing a series of tasks such as standing up and sitting down, walking certain distances and inserting pegs into holes.
After the first session, Jason worked on exercises to improve the time it took to complete the pre- test activities. Once he was able to complete the standard exercises more quickly, the RAMC therapists moved on to more functional tasks like tying shoes, getting out of bed and buttoning shirts.
“People go through the program because they are experiencing a functional deficit that is making everyday life more difficult,” Paula says. “So we determine what the specific needs are, and then tailor the progression of the therapy accordingly.”
Beyond everyday activities, the LSVT BIG program also helps participants with more personalized goals.
“My therapists knew I was a hunter and fisherman, so they analyzed what made loading a gun or reeling in a fish difficult for me and created customized exercises that would help me perform those tasks,” Jason says.
Jason went in for his first follow up on August 19 and saw some incredible results.
“My times for every one of the tests had improved by 50 percent or more,” Jason says. “And the therapists taught me everyday techniques and tricks to enhance my fine motor skills and reduce my shaking.”
But to maintain these results, Jason will need to continue the exercises on his own. For this reason, he is hoping the program will soon have more participants so he can start a support group to work on the exercises together and help keep each other motivated. :
RAMC’s Rehabilitation Department has two therapists certified in the LSVT BIG program and one certified in LSVT LOUD—a speech therapy program designed to address the speech changes associated with Parkinson’s disease.