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MOVE! For Health class

Class punches at Parkinson’s, MS

CMU student-run exercise group helps community members fight diseases’ progression

Contact: Gary H. Piatek

​Physical therapy doctoral students at Central Michigan University are taking big strides toward their careers as they help local residents with Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders make strides of their own.

Exercise is essential for people with those conditions, said Jamie Haines, faculty member in the physical therapy program in CMU's Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions.

That's why Haines and her students began a six-week class last year where community members with various conditions — several with Parkinson's — would work with second-year PT doctoral students in a mock clinical situation: Students would evaluate the patient, devise a health improvement plan and track their progress.

The class was so popular that the participants hated to see it end. They complained that there was no place locally for them to get such education, exercise and social interaction, Haines said.


Growth of an idea

A group of her students saw an opportunity to enrich their education while helping local folks in need, so they asked Haines if they could devise an exercise class for people in the community. Haines thought it was a great idea and said she'd help facilitate it, but it was up to them to run it. They ran with it.

Thus began the MOVE! for Health program.

The students created a Facebook page and spread flyers around campus, in doctors' offices and at physical therapy clinics and support groups. They've had a consistent group of up to eight participants every week.

"They've done a fantastic job," said Haines.

The class

Community members come to the Carls Center for Clinical Care and Education and go through research-based exercises appropriate for their condition. The exercises are geared to slow the decline of participants' motor and cognitive skills and increase their social interactions.

They do boxing-style movements, practice balance and participate in flexibility and aerobic activities.

"It's great to serve the community, it's great for the students, it's great for the college." – Jamie Haines

"Our participants love it," said Allison Guitar, one of the current student program facilitators and president of the Physical Therapy Student Organization.

"It's an opportunity for us students to get to work hands-on with patients, to implement what we've learned. And it helps the community. They get to come to a free class and exercise with people just like themselves, so they can make connections and get support."

Michigan Technological University and CMU partner to offer CMU's doctorate of physical therapy program at Michigan Tech in Houghton, and the students there also offer a MOVE! class. That class has as many as 15 participants, because there are very few places for people with Parkinson's to exercise in that area, said Haines.

"There's a huge gap in society for people with neurological diagnoses to exercise and be healthy," Haines said. "Once they have a stroke, or once they get the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's, there aren't other places north of Lansing for people to get education and exercise.

"It's great to serve the community, it's great for the students, it's great for the college. It's a great collaborative effort where everyone gets rewarded."

Growing pains

The program's success has the new group of second-year doctoral students, including Guitar, expanding it this month to include people with MS.

That eventually could require more space than what they have, and finding that extra space will not be easy, Haines said. The size and the weight of some of the equipment limits them to the current building, she said. There's also the issue of coordinating with other uses for the space. An option they are considering is offering multiple sessions, if they have enough willing student facilitators.

"In my wildest dreams," Haines said, "I imagine a place where people can work out safely and with the expertise they need so that they can be healthy like everybody else, where they can deal with their neurological condition and fight the battle with exercise."

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