“If this program wasn’t around, I’d have to be in extended care,” Dale Baker said. “With this I can be at home.”
Baker, a Springfield resident and Parkinson’s disease patient, attends the weekly Parkinson Activity and Rehabilitation Klinic (PARK) program at Vancrest of Urbana. The program started in 1988 as the brainchild of Licensed Physical Therapist Robert Kahn.
Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder that affects movement, according to the Mayo Clinic website. The disease worsens over time, often starting with tremors in one hand, and stiffness and slowing of movement. Early stages can affect facial expression and speech, and those afflicted may notice in the beginning their arms may not swing when they walk. Parkinson’s can be treated with medication, but cannot be cured.
Kahn created the program while he worked for Lima Memorial Hospital, which is now Lima Memorial Health System.
He switched jobs to Vancrest Health Care Centers in Delphos, and his patients followed him. Vancrest and Kahn thought there was a need for the program in other areas, and so they expanded the program to the Urbana location.
Kahn got interested in physical therapy after needing that assistance while he was in the hospital as a teenager.
“It helped me so much that I wanted to give back to the community all the great things that were given to me,” he said.
Kahn graduated from the University of Wisconsin and has been working with Parkinson’s patients since 1974. He decided to work with Parkinson’s patients specifically because he thought they needed his physical therapy “more than any disability I’ve come across.”
“When I developed this program, it was one of the only ones of its kind in the country,” he said. “Other programs deal with only some type of exercise … What they do not do is take them through what we call the ‘functional’ activities.”
Program stresses functional abilities
PARK focuses on function. Kahn works with patients on a variety of activities, such as getting in and out of chairs or bed, low sofas and vehicles. Kahn said he videotapes each person’s walk and activities to show them what they are doing and help them determine how to make it better.
The program requires the spouse or caregiver of the Parkinson’s patient to attend the sessions so they can help the patient at home. Kahn said that requirement is unique among programs to help Parkinson’s patients.
“The goal is we want the Parkinson’s individual to be as independent as possible, so they can feel good about themselves,” he said. “And the flip side of the coin, we want the caregiver to not have to help the person get up from a chair or in and out of bed, so they do not hurt themselves. A lot of these people are elderly. A 75-year-old woman can’t help a guy that’s 75 or 80, or lift them.”
Kahn’s philosophy with the program is called Simultaneous Automatic Response Integration, or SARI. The philosophy in treatment of the disease is to use repetition to make movements automatic.
“When you and I get up from a chair, we don’t think about it. But these folks, all of a sudden, can’t take it for granted,” he said. “They have to know all the techniques that we use to get up from a chair … to push on the chair armrest, lean forward, get your feet under you …”
The patient benefits in two ways: Strengthening the muscles to do the activity, and repeating the activity to build muscle memory and make it automatic.
Since Parkinson’s disease gets worse over time, patients must continually re-learn how to do the most common things. Kahn said he has patients he’s helped for decades.
“You have to continue to encourage folks, as it gets more difficult as time passes,” he said. “You have to be able to keep folks motivated, and their caregivers.”
Clinic helps patients retain movement
Baker was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009, his wife, Polly, said. They found the PARK program approximately four years ago after hearing Kahn speak about it at a Springfield event.
“I feel without this program, Dale’s movement would have deteriorated much faster,” she said.
Dale Baker’s disease started with the typical tremors in the hands and has spread to his speech. He receives speech therapy separately.
Parkinson’s patient Ted Berlin of Urbana is in the early stages of the disease. He started attending Kahn’s program about two years ago, about the time he was diagnosed. Ted’s wife, Penny, said they heard of the clinic through a friend.
“I feel like (Bob) is a guide on the disease,” she said. “He’s part ‘Seinfeld’ and part physical therapist. He’s so understanding and so good with people.”
The PARK program is held every Thursday at Vancrest of Urbana and every Friday at Vancrest in Delphos. The program is free of charge, though Parkinson’s patients need to get a doctor’s order to go to the program. They then must be evaluated by a physical therapist before participating in the class, which may have a cost associated with it. The program has a combined 70 participants in the two locations, Kahn said.
The only other requirements are the ability to walk independently with or without an assistive device, such as a walker or cane; and the cognition to function in a group.
For more information, call Vancrest at 937-653-5291.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.