The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Life

November 16, 2010

Parkinson's patients cha-cha

Dance classes improve balance, coordination

ANVILLE — Donald Hans and Karen Gronsky hold hands as they do the cha-cha Monday night at the Karen Gronsky Dance Studio.

Those who watch Hans' dance moves — the long strides, the swift movements — might not guess that he was diagnosed with vascular Parkinson's disease less than three years ago, or that he recently had a hip replaced.

"I can't wait to get there," he said. "It's great exercise. I think everyone with Parkinson's should" take the class.

After taking a dance class geared toward individuals with Parkinson's through Geisinger Medical Center for only four weeks, he has already noticed improvement in his balance and coordination.

Parkinson's is a progressive neurological disorder that causes tremors, rigidity, a slowing of movement and difficulty with balance.

The pilot dance program, taught by Gronsky with help from her dance students, incorporates elements of ballet, as well as other dance styles.

The class has also helped raise participants' confidence levels.

"They absolutely love it," she said. "It helps their mind-muscle connection and trains the mind to think one step ahead."

But more importantly, the class has helped participants smile, which is difficult for them because to their condition.

"They have trouble with facial expressions," said Heather Fritz, physical therapist at Geisinger HealthSouth and Parkinson's disease support group leader. "You see them smiling and having a good time."

Hans, a Danville resident, is just one of six participants in the dance program.

Patients with this condition risk an elevated risk of falling because they often have difficulty walking and talking.

But as Gronsky noted, "Instead of focusing on not falling, they're focusing on staying balanced" during the class.

Hans said the class is an opportunity for him to get out during the day.

"When you have Parkinson's, you've got to watch or you'll lose balance and fall," he said.

Aside from this class, Hans likes to exercise regularly, including walking up and down the stairs to his six-floor apartment complex.

Physicial therapist Fritz said the classes allow patients to move more freely, like in physical therapy, but "without the clinical setting."

From her perspective as the dance instructor, Gronsky sees many benefits.

"It's a good time for them to release any awkwardness and gives them freedom of expression," she said. "I like to see a feeling of 'It's my life and I'm going to be the best I can be.' "

For more information about classes for patients with Parkinson's disease, e-mail Nancy Presswood at: nancy.presswood@healthsouth.com.

— E-mail comments to ethompson@dailyitem.com.

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