When Gail Perry Borden was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 12 years ago, she felt completely alone.
“When I got it, there was nothing,” Borden said, referring to the lack of local support programming for people living with Parkinson’s. “I was researching online as best as I could.”
Parkinson’s is a progressive, degenerative disease that affects the nervous system. Symptoms include uncontrollable tremors, impaired balance, rigidity, and trouble speaking and swallowing. Symptoms worsen over time.
Borden learned about neuroplasticity-based exercises that can help Parkinson’s patients and started studying, eventually leading her own workshops. She taught a Parkinson’s fitness class at the YMCA for seven years until COVID hit.
Now, she has started Choose Happy Parkinson’s Network, a support group, at the Marblehead Council on Aging.
“I got inspired again,” Borden said.
About a dozen people attended the group’s recent meeting.
“It gives people a place to go for camaraderie,” she said. “We become very isolated. Not just with people dissing and dismissing us, but our own lack of motivation. That keeps us isolated.”
Borden added, “People need a place to go that’s all their own, where they can talk about anything, that’s nonjudgemental. And I have a wealth of information to give. We share ideas and issues with each other.”
The group will meet monthly at the COA.
Hugh Jamieson, 72, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 20 years ago. He has been taking classes with Borden for years and attended the first patient support group meeting.
“I saw a few people I’ve known for years,” he said. “Gail handed out pamphlets, different things about Parkinson’s. We got to know a little bit about each other and talked about different things like medications we take, how we’re doing.”
Jamieson said there’s a lot of value in talking to other people living with the disease.
“You go to your doctor and neurologist and ask what’s the next step. They just shrug their shoulders,” he said. “At the support group, I get a lot more information from people who have the disease and have been fighting it for years than I do from going to the doctors.”
Fitness instructor Kim Crowley also leads a Parksinson’s fitness class at the COA Mondays at 10 a.m. and Wednesdays at 11 a.m. Borden said it is important to keep moving.
“Absolutely. Totally. Because with Parkinson’s, it’s brain change,” she said. “What we lose we can borrow from other parts of the brain. And before you know it, if you are walking a lot and playing ball, something else might be better because of what you’re doing. It’s about losses and gains.”
To stay fit, Borden teaches a chair yoga class at the COA Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m.
“I do have my deficits now, but I’m still totally independent,” she said. “I’m too scared to drive on the highway with my tremor in my foot and my hands. It does stop with the medicine here and there.
She laughed, “Nobody forgets me because of my tremor.”
Jamieson said he is looking forward to next month’s meeting.
“Definitely, I was in a good mood afterwards,” he said. “It’s good to talk.”
Borden’s group meets next Monday, Oct. 2, at 11 a.m. To learn more about Crowley’s Parkinson’s fitness class, visit marblehead.org/council-aging-department or call the COA at 781-631-6225.