Getting Connected to the Parkinson’s Cause
More familiar to working with elite athletes in need of a training program or exercise regimen, Jessica Lewgood was forced outside her comfort zone when she was approached to run a Parkinson’s specific exercise program in Regina, Saskatchewan.
After five years on the job, Jessica has two new families, one personal with a baby due in June, and one Parkinson’s, along with a new found perspective on what people with the disease go through on a daily basis. She’s always been interested in sports related injuries and very active in various activities in her own time. Working with people with Parkinson’s has let her see another side of physical disability.
“Working with the Parkinson’s exercise group has been a huge learning experience for me. I’ve learned about Parkinson’s and what exercises are beneficial to managing the disease,” said Jessica.
Jessica, an exercise physiologist with a Master of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Regina, focuses on maintaining a high quality of life for her group members.
“Some people with Parkinson’s have other health issues like a heart condition. We’re kind of treating their overall condition,” added Jessica.
She currently runs two exercise classes, based out of a community centre and a physiotherapy clinic respectively, for approximately 20 participants and their caregivers who all come primarily from Regina. Each class runs for an hour twice a week taking exercise assignments back with them as homework.
“Having that caregiver or spouse at the class helps the person with Parkinson’s transition into being more active,” said Jessica.
“Group members take what they learn in class home with them. We try to provide them with a program that includes pictures for better results outside of group time. I’ve also gone to other locations to do exercise education sessions.”
The class works to improve extension through the torso, center of gravity, flexibility, range of motion and changing individuals’ gait mechanisms.
“Most of my students become sedentary due to the fear and risk of falling. We incorporate a lot of cardio to help with that. We encourage the use of poles while walking to increase balance and stability,” Jessica said.
Over time, working with her Parkinson’s students so closely, Jessica has developed a personal bond with her group. Incredibly, with no personal or familial connection to Parkinson’s, Jessica and her mother took it upon themselves to run and manage the local Parkinson SuperWalk event when it was in jeopardy because the previous organizers were unavailable.
Later this year Jessica will be handing over the reins of both her exercise group and her SuperWalk responsibilities when her family moves to Estavan in Southern Saskatchewan to accommodate her husband’s work life and lay a foundation for their soon-to-be-growing family.
Jessica knows she will miss the group when she moves.
“They have taken me under their wing and have been supportive in me reaching my own goals as a professional. It’s been amazing. I’d love to bring them all over for supper. It’s like my family has expanded. I feel very fortunate to be able to work with the group and help them maintain their physical activities,” Jessica said, with emotion.
Jessica plans to continue her work as a physiologist in her new hometown and launch a new exercise group for people with Parkinson’s in that area if possible. Even as she prepares for the next stage of her life Jessica has a mentor’s message for her students, and people with Parkinson’s in general.
“It’s never too late to get involved. There’s no movement that’s too small. If you walk around your house for five minutes once a day that’s better than doing nothing at all. It’s important to do what you can to get involved, stay active and be healthy.”
Did you know Parkinson Society Canada has resources to help get you moving and track your progress? Visit Parkinson.ca to download Exercises for People with Parkinson’s, Physical Activities for People with Parkinson’s and the accompanying Progress Chart or call 1.800-565-3000 to find resources in your community.