Battling Parkinson’s

Page 1

September 2, 2021


The good fight...

By Marcus Hoffman

Battling Parkinson’s with boxing Russ Agreen, a local with Parkinson, uses the Rock Steady boxing class as part of his treatment. Charlene Hawkins, one of the many volunteers, hold focus mitts for Russ when they were doing therapy pre-COVID.

Causes and Risk Factors for Parkinson’s The cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, though there are a variety of risk factors associated with developing Parkinson’s. There is a moderate association between the development of Parkinson’s and pesticide exposure and head injury. The strongest risk factor is genetics, with 15 percent of people who develop Parkinson’s having an immediate family member diagnosed with the disease. The risk of developing Parkinson’s is actually lower in people who smoke cigarettes and drink caffeine. Over 100 million dollars is spent on Parkinson’s research every year, with the hope of better understanding the cause of the disease and potentially finding a cure.

Lyn Sutton has always been passionate about exercise. For nearly 25 years, she has been a personal trainer here on the Shore. Nine years ago, her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and she immediately began to learn more about the condition. Like many others, Lyn associated Parkinson’s with tremors. When she first heard her father had Parkinson’s, she thought of people like Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali. She would discover that it presented in many more ways than she could ever imagined. Parkinson’s is an incurable neurodegenerative disease that has the potential to affect a variety of physical and mental functions. Problems associated with Parkinson’s include difficulty walking, sleep problems, vision problems, mental health issues and more. The disease is also progressive, with the issues associated with Parkinson’s generally growing worse over time. The medications available provide only short term relief, doing nothing to slow the progression of the disease itself. Lyn wanted to do anything she could to help her father feel better and possibly even slow the progression of Parkinson’s. As a personal trainer Lyn has always believed that exercise has the potential to help everyone… sick and healthy… and she knew that exercise had the potential to help her father. After doing some research, she discovered the Rock Steady Boxing Program. Rock Steady is an evidence-based program that uses non-contact shadow boxing to help slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Lyn applied to the waiting list to become certified, and after a few years of waiting, was eventually able to start running her own Rock Steady classes right here on the Shore. While studies have found that exercise in general is beneficial for those with Parkinson’s, Rock Steady’s boxing program has specific benefits. The exercise involves heavy amounts of multitasking, which helps with the neurodegenerative roots of Parkinson’s. Not only has Lyn seen Rock Steady slow the progression of Parkinson’s in people like her father, for some it can even reverse some of the effects of the disease. “I’ve seen people come to class with walkers,” she explained to me, “and forget about it and leave their walker there on the wait out.” Rock Steady also provides benefits for some of the more unconventional issues associated with Parkinson’s. The class involves shouting and vocalizing, which helps with the verbal issues that sometimes come with Parkinson’s. The class also aids with what Lyn calls the social aspect of Parkinson’s. “As time goes on, their world starts to shrink. They don’t go out to lunch; they have low self esteem; and, they become a bit fearful. Many of them want to hide it.” Through Rock Steady, the participants become part of a community.

Local shares his story...

September 2, 2021

Russ and Linda Agreen met by happenstance when he crashed at UMD while Linda was in college. They’ve been in love ever since. He subsequently enjoyed a career as a computer programmer for NASA while Linda taught at public schools across Maryland for thirty years. They would eventually settle here on the Eastern Shore. Nearly a decade ago, Russ was dealing with a bad bout of constipation and decided to go to the hospital. While there, the doctor tested his arm movements and suspected he might have Parkinson’s. He was referred to a neurologist for further testing. Though Russ had a cousin with Parkinson’s, he didn’t know too much about the disease. Just like Lyn, Russ and Linda thought of Russ and his wife Linda on Michael J. Fox and Muhammad their 25th wedding anniverAli and the visible issues that are sary. They just celebrated their most commonly associated with the 50th this year on June 26. disease. At the time of his diagnosis, Russ’s symptoms were so subtle that he didn’t even suspect he had it. As time went on, his symptoms grew worse. One of the most common issues he deals with is resting tremors. Russ does not experience severe tremors during active motion, like when he reaches down to grab the phone or when he puts it up to his ear. When he tries to hold the phone still, his hand starts shaking badly, making it difficult to communicate with the person on the other end. Russ also is beginning to suffer with balance problems. At times, his balance issues can be so severe that it is difficult to stand up or even sit down. These problems tend to be at their worst early in the morning and late at night when he hasn’t yet taken his medication. While his medication comes with few side

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Page 16 effects and helps alleviate his symptoms, it must be taken often and does nothing to slow the progression of the disease. Russ started seeing a psychologist a few years back. Not only can the symptoms of Parkinson’s cause depression and anxiety, but depression is thought to be a symptom of the disease itself, due to the way it affects the brain. A staff member at the clinic knew someone involved in Rock Steady and recommended it to him. Russ had difficulty getting work outs in due to being embarrassed while at the local gym. “He felt different and thought everyone was staring at him even though they weren’t,” Linda explained to me. Rock Steady gave Russ the ability to be around people in a similar situation and to get the exercise he needed to slow the progression of his disease without shame. Russ says that he has “never been a fighter” and that going to Rock Steady can often feel like a chore, but Linda and he have both noticed a benefit, so he pushes through and keeps going. “When Russ is active, I notice a big difference,” Linda told me. ‘It’s really important that he is out doing things as opposed to sitting around. In the morning he needs a walker. Once he starts moving and his medication kicks in, he can get around without it. “ Because he takes medication and stays active, Russ can still do a lot, even if he doesn’t get out as much as he used to. “I can drive, I can do yard work, and I can play golf, even if I can’t hit as well as I used to,” he joked. Russ and Linda are incredibly grateful for everything Rock Steady and Lyn have done for them. “The group has become almost like an extended family,” Linda told me. “Lyn is an extremely positive person. It’s really important Russ has people like that in his life.” While Russ has trouble remaining optimistic about the future, he stays strong with the help of his wife, the people at Rock Steady, and his medical team. He and Linda are looking forward to vacationing in North Carolina in January and February. KEEP UPDATED!

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Rock Steady grows... When Lyn founded the local Rock Steady affiliate in Grasonville, she began with eleven members. Now Rock Steady is held at multiple locations across the Shore. Lyn teamed up with the Easton YMCA of the Chesapeake at Washington to found a Talbot affiliate, which is now run by Wendy Davis. The classes also are held at different levels of difficulty to meet the varying needs of different people. Lyn says that in the higher level classes, for those with less severe Parkinson’s, you might just think it was a regular shadow boxing class if you were to see them. Last year at the time the pandemic began, Rock Steady was meeting multiple times a week. “Coronavirus was hard on everyone,” Lyn told me, “but it was specifically hard for those with Parkinson’s... many of their social circles had already shrunk.” Lyn knew that Rock Steady was essential to helping those with Parkinson’s, but she also wanted to keep her boxers safe, so she transitioned to online classes. Despite the age of many of their participants, the transition went incredibly well. Lyn told me a touching story one of the boxer’s wives had told her about the group’s dedication. “A couple months in, one of our boxer’s wives, who had been helping her husband get on from day one, sent me an e-mail. She said she had never seen a more dedicated flock of individuals. She said ‘I had many meetings due to COVID in my realty company. If there was a connection problem, employees were quick to give up their time. If it took the boxers half the class to connect, they kept at.’” Rock Steady has now made the transition from



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Rock Steady now offered at YMCA virtual back to in-person. Lyn believes that Rock Steady helped enable her father to do many things near the end of his life that he otherwise might not have been able to do. Nevertheless, due to the progressive nature of the disease, his symptoms only continued to worsen. “It can get real ugly at the end,” Lyn told me. “There was a lot of frustration and a lot of anger.” Near the end of his life, his symptoms became so severe he had difficulty with basic tasks like reading and eating. In July of this year, after nearly a decade of fighting, Lyn’s father passed away due to Parkinson’s. Nevertheless, Lyn was glad she and her father had been able to do Rock Steady together. Lyn is excited to begin in-person sessions once again to help those with Parkinson’s fight all the symptoms and complications that can come with the disease.

Interested in joining... Rock Steady classes are now held multiple times a week at the Easton YMCA of the Chesapeake at Washington and at the Queen Anne’s Family YMCA in Centreville. To learn more about the Queen Anne’s Family YMCA in Centreville, you can contact Lyn at 410-703-9162 or send an email to lsutton@ . If you would like to learn more about the Easton YMCA of the Chesapeake at Washington you can contact Wendy Palmer at 410-8221515 or email send an email to .

How you can help... Lyn explained to me that there are a variety of different ways you can support Rock Steady and those with Parkinson’s in general. As the classes begin in person again, they are being hosted by the Queen Anne’s Family YMCA in Centreville. You can donate to them at queen-annes-county-family-ymca. Funding for the program also comes from the Maryland Association for Parkinson’s Support. The MAPS funds programs like Rock Steady, runs support programs for those with Parkinson’s and more. You can learn more about MAPS at https://www.marylandparkinsonsupport. org/ . Another important group for those with Parkinson’s is the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Rock Steady and MAPS are about today,” Lyn explained. “They are about helping those with Parkinson’s right now in this moment. The Michael J Fox Foundation is about the future of Parkinson’s and finding a cure... maybe my children and grandchildren won’t have to see what Parkinson’s can do to the body.”

About Rock Steady... Scott Newman, the founder of Rock Steady, was practicing law in Indianapolis. At the young age of 40 he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s. His good friend Vince Perez, a Golden Gloves Boxer, wasn’t going to let his friend go down without a fight. Together they developed the Rock Steady Boxing program. Noticing the benefits, they started a boxing club for people with Parkinson’s. Now there are nearly one thousand Rock Steady classes held all over the world. If you would like to learn more about Rock Steady Boxing, visit their website at


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