New treatment benefits people with Parkinson’s disease.

March 1, 2017

David & Rachel-57-600

New treatment benefits people with Parkinson’s disease.


LUDINGTON — A new rehabilitation treatment method at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital, known as “LSVT BIG,” is showing large benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease.

While there is not yet a complete cure for Parkinson’s, treatment often helps people manage the chronic movement disorder and enjoy a better quality of life.

One such treatment, recently introduced by the hospital’s rehabilitation services staff, is known as “BIG” due to the exaggerated movement exercises it employs. A variant of the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) Program for speech therapy, the research-based LSVT BIG exercise approach focuses on using a pattern of exaggerated motions while sitting or standing. The program is proving to enhance control of limb movement and balance, keys to overall quality of life for Parkinson’s patients.

David, Judy, Jennifer, Rachel-64-600

David and his wife, Judy, center, with Jennifer and Rachel.

More than two dozen people have successfully completed the intensive program through the hospital’s outpatient rehabilitation services. One of them is David Smedley, 77, of Free Soil, who agreed to share his positive experience with the BIG program in the hope it will encourage others to try the new therapy.

A skilled woodworker, Smedley began to notice his left hand was shaking as he shaped bowls and other objects in his woodshop in rural Mason County. Hand control is critical to his artistry, and it became increasingly difficult.

About the same time, David’s wife, Judy, noticed he was starting to drag his feet. His symptoms continued to get worse.

Smedley was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive movement disorder that affects more than one million people in the United States.  Public awareness of the disease has increased in recent years because of celebrities such as Michael J. Fox and Muhammed Ali being diagnosed.

David’s story

“I had symptoms for about four or five years before entering the program,” said Smedley. “It was limiting what I could do in my woodshop.  My hand shook all the time.  When you’re working with a wood lathe or a table saw, you need two good hands.  If you’re trying to hold a piece of wood and one of your hands is shaking, you’re just asking to get your fingers cut off.”

Continuing to seek treatment, Smedley enrolled last summer in the LSVT BIG program offered at Ludington Hospital. There, he worked with therapists Jennifer Higley and Rachel Young, two of five clinicians on the staff certified in the BIG program.

He admits to being skeptical that the month-long program could make a difference in his life. Much to his surprise, he started to see positive results almost right away. That encouraged him to work even harder on the exercises, reinforced by Judy’s encouragement.

“We did a lot of different exercises to get my hands and feet working together,” he said.  “Jennifer and Rachel taught me how to do things big…such as opening my hand up wide, and walking and climbing stairs by taking big steps instead of dragging my feet.”

Most of all, Smedley was amazed at how the overstated motions helped him control the shaking and use his hand again.

“I thought this disease was going to keep me from working as much in my woodshop, but thanks to this program, I’m back in the shop doing just about anything I want.  I used to feel that my left hand was useless and I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Equally important, he’s also back to playing with his 30 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren, including 2-year-old Sarah, whom he delights in babysitting on a daily basis.

“She goes with me all over and says, ‘Walk big, Papa!’” said Smedley, nearly overcome with emotion.

You figure out a way

Parkinson’s disease isn’t Smedley’s first heath challenge.  At age 14, he was diagnosed with polio, which he approached with the same determination he uses with Parkinson’s.

“That’s when I learned not to let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” he said.  “You just figure out a way to get it done.“

He took that approach with his Parkinson’s in using the LSVT BIG program to control the symptoms.

“I work the program into anything I’m doing.  If I’m walking, I take big steps so I don’t drag them anymore.  I do the same thing with my hand.”

His advice to others: “If you’re sincere about doing the work, you’ll see the results.”

The LSVT BIG program

The LSVT BIG exercise program is a four-week program administered in 16 one-hour classes.  Patients focus on performing seven daily exercises along with functional tasks such as sit-to-stand training and BIG walking.   Functional tasks are tailored to each patient based on their individual needs.

“Because David enjoys woodworking, we tried to tailor his program around his hobby,” said Higley. “His treatment focused a lot on using BIG hand movements when completing upper extremity tasks.  And because David walks in the woods to cut down materials for his projects, we focused on walking on uneven ground, stepping over obstacles and carrying items while walking.”

While Smedley was surprised at the success of the program, it wasn’t so shocking to his therapists.

Young, a physical therapist assistant, said, “It’s a very intensive program—virtually constant motion during each session. It doesn’t take long before patients see the benefit and how it helps to improve day-to-day function. For David, we saw significant improvement after just two weeks.”

Patients are encouraged to make their exercises a life-long pursuit and return for periodic “tune-ups” with their rehabilitation specialists.

For more information about the LSVT BIG program, contact Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation at 231.845.2132.

Story, photo, and videos submitted by Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital. Copyright © 2017. 

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