May 17, 2016

After Snow and Shingles, Can I Start Walking in My Neighborhood Again?

I'm finally recovering from my shingles siege. If I were to list the major health setbacks that have most affected my quality of life, I'd rank them this way:
  1. Parkinson's disease, diagnosed in 2009,
  2. Prostatectomy, 1995, and
  3. Shingles, 2016.
Ooops. How could I forget my alcoholism, which hands-down takes that #1 slot?

The shingles diagnosis came on March 24, and I'm still not fully recovered. I can't remember any other ailment that knocked me out for so long.

I had the shingles vaccine several years ago. But it's not uncommon for people, particularly seniors, to get shingles anyway. But vaccinated sufferers typically get a milder version.

Usually an attack of shingles comes with lots of pain and nonstop itching. I had only a little pain and no itching. Instead, I had an almost complete loss of energy.

For nearly two months, I've canceled most activities outside the house. Around inside the house, I almost always use a cane or walker, or hang on to the guardrails I've installed in most key hallways.

My Biggest Concern for the Long-Term
I expect my energy  -- slowly but surely -- will return to its pre-shingles state (which wasn't all that great, given my age and the Parkinson's).

What I worry about most is whether I'll be able to recover any ability to walk independently -- a problem of mine before the shingles but one on which I had begun making some progress. 

Parkinson's  disease (PD) is a disorder that affects the brain's ability to control movement. It progressively worsens, although the rate of decline varies greatly from one person to another.

PD and Poor Balance
Normally, there are automatic reflexes in the brain that help us maintain balance when we stand or walk. For people with PD, these reflexes fail, increasing the risk of falling. Eventually, many people with PD end up using walkers or wheelchairs.

Because of my concerns about balance, I gave up my beloved biking several years after my belated diagnosis. But until the last year or two, I substituted walking as my preferred exercise.

I started slowing down this past year, and cut back on walking. During this same time, I began reading about -- and corresponding online with -- John Pepper, a South African in his early 80s. John is actively sharing with others his “conscious walking” program, a regimen that has allowed him to lead a very active life and to wean himself off of all PD medications.

Norman Doidge’s bestselling book, The Brain's Way of Healing Itself, devotes a chapter to John and his conscious walking program – which I described in an earlier post. You'll also find links to the other posts about John by entering "John Pepper" in the search box.

With his extraordinary stamina and his intense desire to help the rest of us who are living with Parkinson's, John has developed a briefing session that helps others with PD get some of the benefits  of conscious walking. After trying out the program with meetings in Europe (Sweden, the Netherlands, and the UK), John has taken the show on the road big time.  He has completed a tour of Australia and New Zealand and is embarking on a tour of Canada and the U.S,

 I had hoped he would bring the show to D.C. but that may have to wait for another time

 If you want to know more about John and his conscious walking and his road show, I found this intervew with a radio station in New Zealand very helpful.

Back to me and my shingles… Reading about John and his conscious walking inspired me to try increasing – and improving -- my walking. I began having Joey, my part-time chauffeur, drive me to the top of the hill by my house; then, I’d walk back down – about a mile -- concentrating on swinging my arms, and taking large strides while repeating to myself "heel toe, heel toe."

I was pleased with the progress I was making.

And then shingles struck. Instead of conscious walking, I've been doing almost no unassisted walking. I even had several serious falls when I tried walking just a few steps by myself.

So now my concern is this: Can I improve my unassisted walking? I'm getting great assistance from the physical therapist I found on our neighborhood listserv. We just embarked on a program to get me walking again.

I received additional inspiration and motivation from this comment that Chris Day left last week on my post about Norman Doidge and John Pepper​:
By good fortune I guessed that a walking and mental stimulation regime would be beneficial. I am 65 having had Parkinson's since 1998 aged 47. 
My disease took the usual course for many years and I resorted to an electric cart to play golf. Now that I have been walking and stretching my brain with Scrabble, sudoku, cryptic crosswords, genealogy, and learning the ukulele I find that my symptoms are greatly reduced. In fact if I reduce my stress enough I can go all morning without my pills and no discernible tremor. In fact my severity of the disease is less than when I'd had it only three years. 
My own experience is that for me to walk 5-6 days a week-half an hour each time at whatever speed my body chooses which is about three quarter speed generally. It is as though my brain reboots and quickly establishes a steady smooth stride without a hint of stiff arm swing or stooped shuffle.  
My intention is to wean myself off the medication by degree.  
It is very revealing that should I miss two or three walks my body begins to stiffen and other Parkinson's symptoms display. So I am not cured. Simply the main disabling symptoms are checked enabling me to look and act completely normal. Most people never pick up that I have Parkinson's. My neurologist is nonplussed. But it is clear to me that the value of repetitious walking is grossly undervalued and much misunderstood. 
Remember, riding bikes and lifting weights have little to no beneficial effect on the main symptoms of Parkinson's. It must be walking.

​Time to leave this desk chair and start exercising.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I hope you get back to walking and your daily routine!