Lethbridge Herald

Knocking out Parkinson’s


- Melissa Villeneuve LETHBRIDGE HERALD

“Can you help me do these up?” asks 72-year- old Linda Kenney, referring to her petal pink boxing gloves before she starts her session of Dopamine boxing at the Lethbridge Boxing Club.

At first glance, Kenney doesn’t quite fit the typical criteria for a boxer with her slight frame and silvery hair. But every day she proves she is a true fighter.

Kenney was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 23 years ago at the age of 50. The long-term neurogener­ative disease affects each person in different ways. Over time it causes the brain to slowly stop producing dopamine, the neurotrans­mitter responsibl­e for sending signals to the brain that control movement.

Many experience tremours, rigidity, impaired balance, and an inability to regulate their emotions. Fighting depression is common, as is insomnia and fatigue, resulting in poor concentrat­ion and focus.

More than 100,000 Canadians are afflicted by Parkinson’s disease. It is the second most common neurodegen­erative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease. There is no known cause or cure.

But Kenney finds strength in staying active and fighting back. She’s always been active with gym classes and jogging, but Kenney desired something else. She saw dopamine boxing clinics pop up in the United States and when she heard the program was coming to Lethbridge, Kenney signed up right away.

“I love it. We’re a family,” she said. “We’re all here for the same reasons in varying stages of the disease but we all have a similarity in that we have it and we know it will progress but we keep moving.”

Research has shown that high-intensity workouts, such as boxing, are proven to stimulate the production of dopamine, which can reduce symptoms and slow the progressio­n of the disease allowing people with Parkinson's to lead happier lives.

The Parkinson Associatio­n of Alberta teamed up with the Lethbridge Boxing Club to run a six-week “dopamine boxing” program, which began in September. The final class of this session was last Friday, but due to the success of the program new sessions will begin next year.

Similar boxing programs are held in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer. The Lethbridge program’s curriculum was developed alongside the Red Deer Boxing Club.

Participan­ts learn how to wrap their hands to prepare for a match, work on their handto-eye co-ordination and throw punches at the heavy bag. They learn how to jab, how to step, and how to duck out of the way of a punch. Kenney, who attended three times per week, says she feels revitalize­d after each class.

We’re just fighting this thing (Parkinson’s) that’s trying to take over and we’re saying ‘dammit, we’re not going to let that happen.’

– Linda Kenney –

“With this disease you gotta move. If you stop, you stiffen right up, you become frozen sometimes.”

The benefits go beyond the physical, she says. There are also great emotional rewards and lifelong friendship­s are built.

“We know we can discuss whatever here that this crazy disease does to us. We’re always fighting inside. We’re just fighting this thing that’s trying to take over and we’re saying ‘dammit, we’re not going to let that happen.’”

Kenney never expected to become a boxer. But over the past few months, Kenney learned she’s stronger than she ever imagined.

“We’re never going to fight competitiv­ely, but we compete with ourselves. And that alone is such an accomplish­ment. So, this is the answer for me right now.”

Carol Ens is dealing with the early onset of Parkinson’s disease as she is only in her fifties. It was quite a blow as she used to be very active in sports. When Ens learned she had the disease, she became more isolated and stayed at home, fighting with depression.

“I wasn’t finding a way to take care of myself,” she said. “This is an opportunit­y to get out.”

There are a lot of activities Parkinson’s patients can do on their own at home, but Ens values the camaraderi­e and support of her boxing peers.

“Here it’s a team feeling; it’s a family feeling. The coaches are great. They treat you like an athlete, not someone with a disability.”

Ens knew nothing about boxing and didn’t care to watch it on television. But since she started the program, Ens discovered “it’s wonderful to be able to hit things.”

“It’s a real good release,” she said. Participan­ts don’t spar with each other, although coach Christophe­r Campbell does wind up as the punching bag at times.

“There’s a frustratio­n with the disease because we can slow it down but there’s no cure. And so, just the thought that you’re doing something that is hopefully buying you more good days than bad days, that’s what I’m finding.”

Campbell, assistant coach of Lethbridge Boxing Club and head coach of Lethbridge Dopamine Boxing, has witnessed the resilience of the participan­ts.

“We’ve had a couple people fall down and they get right back up and at it,” he said. “They’re not dissuaded by any injury. Definitely an appreciati­on for the sport of boxing has grown with them, as well as more confidence in their ability to move.”

Several participan­ts have reported a reduction in their symptoms, he said. They can move better and walk more smoothly. Their energy levels are higher and they have greater balance. One woman couldn’t wash her hair in the shower because she would get dizzy and fall.

“Now she can close her eyes and reach above her and grab shampoo without any fear,” he said. It’s been a learning exercise for Campbell as well and he plans to continue to teach the program, which is growing in popularity.

“It’s something I’m passionate about and something I really love doing,” he said.

The positive results are something Jon Doan was hoping for. The associate professor, specializi­ng in kinesiolog­y and neuroscien­ce at the University of Lethbridge, is conducting some research with the program. His goal is to examine what the boxing program can help people maintain in terms of function and quality of life, and if there are any improvemen­ts.

“We’ve seen amazing things,” he said. “We’ve seen people turn into actual boxers. If you look at the physical side, their foot work, the way they’re using their hands, they’ve really bought into the physical activity of being boxers.”

Doan regularly conducts balance tests to gauge the physical results. He said improvemen­ts have been “across the board.” But it’s the social and psychologi­cal effects that are most interestin­g. The group of boxers take care of their space and share ownership over it. And with increased enthusiasm and physical results, the participan­ts now have the confidence to take in more social activities than they would before.

“It’s given them a sense of belonging,” said Doan. “It’s given them a sense of success and capability that’s just as important as the physical side.”

Doan noted it is more difficult for those living in rural areas to access these type of classes. They hope to continue and grow the program in Lethbridge and beyond.

“Boxing isn’t the only physical activity they are doing, but there is something wonderful about boxing,” said Alicia Visser, Client Services Co-ordinator for Parkinson Associatio­n of Alberta. “We’re at that exciting point where they’re still researchin­g why and all the informatio­n is coming in from all over the world because boxing in Parkinson’s is becoming quite mainstream.”

An open house for the next Parkinson’s & Boxing Program is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, from 10 a.m. to noon. The program will resume Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at 11 a.m. It will run Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays for six weeks.

To register, contact the Parkinson Associatio­n of Alberta office at 403-317-7710 or the Lethbridge Boxing Club at (403) 894-1754.

 ?? Herald photo by Tijana Martin @TMartinHer­ald ?? Linda Aspeslet spars with coach Stephen Lillejord during a “dopamine boxing” class last week. The program is a joint effort between the Parkinson Associatio­n of Alberta and Lethbridge Boxing Club.
Herald photo by Tijana Martin @TMartinHer­ald Linda Aspeslet spars with coach Stephen Lillejord during a “dopamine boxing” class last week. The program is a joint effort between the Parkinson Associatio­n of Alberta and Lethbridge Boxing Club.

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