British Columbia

Exercise, not drugs, the focus of new Victoria Parkinson's centre

Centre director Jillian Carson, says research has shifted from focussing on drugs and counselling to intensive exercise for slowing the degenerative disease.

Anonymous $500,000 donation launches stand-alone community centre for movement disorders

Jillian Carson, second from right, said the stand-alone centre for the Parkinson's Wellness Project is a response to growing demand from people with movement disorders. (Bill Peterson)

When Jillian Carson was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the age of 49, the medical specialists had little to offer her in the way of treatment.

"They tell you that you have this neurodegenerative disease that there's no cure for, but if you take this little pill you'll be good for about 10 years," she told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

"And then you decline," she said. "You start to decline and then basically there's no hope." 

Carson is now chair of the Parkinson's Wellness Project which is preparing to open a stand-alone centre in Victoria with the help of an anonymous donation of $500,000.

Isolating effect 

Carson said Parkinson's has an isolating effect, where sufferers tend to retreat into their homes and inactivity.

"If you put someone with Parkinson's in a chair, they'll be gone in five years," she said.

"If I can get people out of their houses they'll keep coming." 

The Parkinson's Wellness Centre, to be located in a midtown Victoria strip mall next to a doughnut shop, will offer rigorous exercise programs, including boxing.

After her own diagnosis Carson, who had worked as a physiotherapist, studied research-based Parkinson's wellness recovery exercise programs in the United States.

While there is no cure for Parkinson's disease Carson said rigorous exercise programs, including boxing, can slow the progress of the degenerative disorder. (Bill Peterson)

"The latest research on Parkinson's disease is that exercise actually slows the progression of the disease. And the sooner you get doing Parkinson's specific exercises, the better," she said.

Carson said to achieve the release of natural dopamine in the body — the chemical lacking in Parkinson's patients — sufferers have to, "exercise harder than you think you could ever do in your life."

Coaches are needed because people with Parkinson's can't accurately adjust the speed or intensity of their movements. 

"We may be thinking we're going really fast but we're going really slow," she said. "We don't have the sensory feedback in our bodies."