WENATCHEE — The students in Paula Lamanna’s class are shaky. Their balance is bad. They battle depression. And their muscles are eager to atrophy.
Parkinson’s disease will do that to a person.
“A lot of people get the diagnosis and they go home and just sit,” Lamanna says. “We want to change that.”
Lamanna teaches a class at the Wenatchee Racquet & Athletic Club that aims to keep Parkinson’s patients active and as fit as possible. The class is affiliated with of a national nonprofit program called Rock Steady Boxing. The program in Wenatchee previously was operated as a private business but the WRAC took it on over a year ago.
Lamanna, a certified Rock Steady trainer, keeps her students working hard. They progress through a circuit that includes hitting a speed ball, boxing against a specially-made soft punching bag, working on fine-motor skills, and doing squats and cross-body workouts.
It also includes yelling.
“They have to get their voices,” Lamanna says, noting that Parkinson’s often diminishes the ability to talk in little more than a whisper.
Parkinson’s, Lamanna says, “shuts down your brain little by little and we work to keep all the parts as alive as possible.”
She notes that workouts are tailored to each student’s conditions.
Students, under doctors’ orders, take medication to increase dopamine levels in the body. And many of Lamanna’s students have deep brain stimulation implants, which help counteract symptoms.
But exercising, with specific movements, is critical, Lamanna says.
About 30 people are enrolled in the Parkinson’s program, with 10 to 12 clients coming on a regular basis in various classes five days a week. Ages range from 42 to 80.
Steve Pierson, 64, of Cashmere, was diagnosed four years ago after he noticed that his right side was “super slow and the muscles were getting weak.”
The Rock Steady workout, he says, “kind of pulls you out of the funk that you feel.”
His favorite exercise is the punching bag. “You get the frustration out,” he says.
The workouts, he says, have slowed down the progression of the disease. “I’m stronger now to where the activities I am able to do, I am able to do better. I’m getting some of my strength back that I’ve lost.”
Mike Tait, 63, of Leavenworth, was diagnosed in his mid-40s when he noticed tremors and stiffening in his legs.
“Emotionally, it’s great to be with people who have the same issues,” he says. “Other people don’t understand what Parkinson’s is.”
Like Pierson, Tait says he thinks the workouts have slowed down the progression of the disease.
Brad Berlink, 71, is a retired farmer living in Quincy. He was diagnosed in 2000.
“I didn’t have any arm swing on my left side,” he says. “My arm would just hang down.”
He’s been doing Rock Steady Boxing workouts for the past five years.
“It’s kept my strength up, particularly in my legs,” he says. He likes the punching bag workout.
“It’s always good stimulation when you can hit something,” he says. “It not only takes care of the frustration but it kind of jolts your system.”
Still, he adds, “the biggest benefit is not the boxing. It’s the rubbing shoulders with other people who have P.D. There’s an empathy there, and a kind of honesty.”
Dave Shannon, 76, of East Wenatchee, is a retired State Parks ranger. He is not only dealing with Parkinson’s but the loss of his left arm while serving in the military in Vietnam. He is also a cancer survivor. Parkinson’s has made his voice a soft whisper.
Shannon started doing Rock Steady Boxing about five years ago.
“I didn’t want to die prematurely of complications of Parkinson’s, maybe end up in a rocker or a chair.”
He feels good about working on his balance, strength and agility. His notes that his posture has improved. “I don’t know what I’d be like if I just sat in an easy chair all the time. I don’t want to do that.”