PARK making life easier for Parkinson’s patients

June 23, 2013

DELPHOS — Just like at home, getting into bed proved difficult for Ed Zalar and left him diagonal on the bed. But different this particular day was an audience of a physical therapist and fellow Parkinson’s patients with lots of advice and encouragement.

After following their advice and a few more tries during a recent session of the Parkinson’s Activity and Rehabilitation Klinic, Zalar found himself getting into bed with much more ease and minus the lopsided position.

“That’s great,” others said as they applauded Zalar, whose wife, Norma, blurted out that the session at Vancrest of Delphos was the best yet.

The success of the session is the kind of thing founder Bob Kann has been seeing for the past 25 years. While there is an exercise component to the program, the primary focus is on functional things such as getting in and out of a chair, a bed, a vehicle. Everyone at the recent session took a turn getting in and out of the bed brought in for the day.

“There are lots of techniques on how to do all of these things. That is the key to the program,” Kann said. “Exercises are good, but you have to show them how to get out of a chair, how to get out of bed. Everything that used to be taken for granted, they lose that and that is where physical therapy is so, so, so important.”

Zalar, of Delphos, said he has learned much in his two years in the program. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease four years ago. The most recent session was a highlight though; the tips on getting in bed immediately relieving excess work and stress.

“Bob is a very good instructor and very patient,” he said. “This is a real good support group. We help one another.”

Kann began the program, the first of its kind, in 1988 while he was director of rehabilitation services at Lima Memorial Health System. He spent 15 years there and brought the program with him when he took on the same job at Vancrest in 2004. He retired from Vancrest in September, leaving him more time for the program and to start a similar one at a Vancrest facility in Urbana.

Kann became a physical therapist because of his own medical struggles. He has Crohn’s syndrome and had many obstacles to overcome as a teenager.

“I figured everyone had done so much for me to get me healthy and I wanted to pay back to the medical profession for helping me so much,” he said.

Getting the last spot in a program at the University of Wisconsin, Kann then interned at the Younker Rehabilitation Center in Des Moines, Iowa. He came up through the ranks and ended up serving as director for 15 years. During that time, he saw many Parkinson’s patients.

“I can’t think of a disease more than Parkinson’s where physical therapy can really make a difference,” he said.

PARK is a free program with patients staying as long as they want. Some have been coming to the weekly hour sessions for 15 to 20 years. Patients must get a prescription to join the group and must be evaluated by a physical therapist.

Potential patients must be able to function independently at home and have good enough cognition to follow the group sessions. A family member must also commit to coming along to the sessions so they can reinforce the instructions. The goal, Kann said, is to keep them functional for as long as possible.

“It is very important that they get out and get moving,” he said. “This is the type of disease that the more you sit, the worse it gets. The more functional you are for the longer period of time, the longer you are going to live.”

Safety is at the forefront of the sessions, said Kann, who is known for telling people to “stay off the floor.” Parkinson’s patients have trouble with balance, so Kann spends a lot of time instructing them how to walk safely and analyzing their gait.

Kann tries to add new components to the program yearly. A few years back he started focusing one session on getting in and out of a car. Vancrest blocks off a section of its parking lot and patients bring their cars.

Patients now watch videos of themselves from previous sessions. They see things in themselves, Kann said, that they hadn’t noticed while doing the exercises. The patients also spend time critiquing each other.

Diagnosed a year and a half ago, Kevin Daley, of Lima, joined the group a year ago. He likes the “family atmosphere” of the group and said it’s helped him with everyday activities like putting on his shoes and getting in and out of bed.

“I love it. I have learned a lot of things you can do,” he said. “It has made a big difference. Without the exercise program, I don’t think I would be doing as well.”