Progress is Possible - Jennifer's Story - PMD Alliance

With a Prescription for Exercise, Progress is Possible

“When people hear they have Parkinson’s and they’re told it’s neurodegenerative”—that it’s going to get worse and worse over time—“they might get a stereotypical picture in their heads about what their life is going to look like.” They may think the only thing ahead for them is decline. But as Jennifer Anderson, PT, DPT, NCS, the owner of Root Physical Therapy and the PMD Alliance Board Secretary, insisted, “That doesn’t have to be the case.”

In her practice, a mobile movement disorders clinic that  is designed specifically to empower people with Parkinson disease (PD), she prescribes exercise and sees people with PD defy the stereotype. She sees hope.

Parkinson’s: The Unexpected Path

Jennifer Anderson never expected to work with people with Parkinson’s. She didn’t know anyone with Parkinson’s. Growing up, she was an athlete and played tennis in college. “I had physical therapy as a kid [for sports injuries],” she said. “ I thought I was going to go into sports rehab.”

But when she started her clinical rotations in school, her instructor was known as the “Parkinson’s therapist.” “That was my first real exposure in pretty high volume to working with people with Parkinson’s,” she said. And it surprised her: together with her patients, they made big gains and had a lot of fun.

With PD, Progress is Possible

The people Jennifer works with come from a wide range of exercise backgrounds. “Whether they’ve never exercised a day in their life or they used to run marathons, they tend to be willing to work.” The secret to that, Jennifer said, is teaching them “the why.”

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, “By the time Parkinson’s is diagnosed, most people have lost an estimated 60 to 80 percent of their dopamine-producing cells.” But Jennifer works with each person, seeing and treating the whole person, to show them why exercise can be crucial to their wellbeing. They can make progress.

“Of course, medication is important,” Jennifer said. “But as we’ve learned in the past 20-30 years, exercise is one of the best treatments.” According to her, small changes add up. When people begin to see themselves make progress, “it lights a fire in them to keep doing it.” And it reminds each of us: “it’s never too late to make improvements.”

“I’ve had adult children and spouses of people with Parkinson’s [see their loved one’s progress] and say, ‘They haven’t walked this well in ten years.’” It motivates them, she said. And it motivates her to keep doing the work she’s doing.

One thing that’s unique about what Jennifer and Root Physical Therapy do is they go into people’s environments, usually their homes, to work specifically with each person’s needs. Maybe that means helping them navigate certain doorways or getting in and out of bed. “This empowers their support people—whether it’s a spouse, adult child, or friend—too.”

A few years ago, she was doing therapy with one of her clients in his home, and his 4 year old granddaughter happened to be visiting. His goal in therapy had been to be able to play with her, to be able to get up and down from the floor. Jennifer said, “We had been working on that. So when I saw his granddaughter there visiting, I asked her to help her grandpa do his therapy. I got them on the ground and they’re doing exercises together. This guy hadn’t been on the ground in years. To his granddaughter, it was fun. To me, he was on the ground, he was working on his core strength. And he was fulfilling his goal,” living a full, loving life with Parkinson’s. “I am passionate about what I do because of moments like that.”

A Web of Support

At PMD Alliance, we are buoyed by a giving, supportive, inspiring community. Jennifer Anderson is part of that. She chooses to give back to the Parkinson’s community not only through her work, but by serving on the PMD Alliance Board of Directors. “I’ve basically been there since its inception,” she said. “I am so proud of everything that PMD Alliance has done from the start till now. Watching its growth has been amazing.”

One of Jennifer’s favorite things about the organization is “how they consider the whole Movement Disorder Care & Support Ecosystem©”—everyone impacted by movement disorders, from family members, to speech therapists, to support group leaders, to medical professionals, with the people living with the disease at the center of the Ecosystem©. “PMD Alliance does an excellent job supporting the entire community, creating a collaborative environment.”

In Jennifer’s work, she focuses on the now—on making sure people can live their fullest lives today. She says, “I wish people knew that although Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder, it doesn’t have to be progressive. People can get better and stay better.”

This is another reason she’s in alignment with and chooses to give back to PMD Alliance. “It’s great to have organizations that focus on research,” but that doesn’t help people live well today. “I love PMD Alliance’s focus on supporting people in the now. It’s vital to focus on today.”

We have bright hopes for the future, but now is the moment that matters.

Help the helpers

With too few providers trained in movement disorder management, PMD Alliance provides free continuing medical education and an annual conference for healthcare providers to expand informed care. We also host weekly, live webinars with experts of all kinds to connect people with the information they need right now.

A donation of just $250 supports scores of people without access to expert care, providing them with weekly, free, expert guidance from movement disorder specialists.

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