Members of the Parkinson Wellness Project take part in an exercise class, weeks before the centre’s closure in 2020 due to the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)

Members of the Parkinson Wellness Project take part in an exercise class, weeks before the centre’s closure in 2020 due to the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)

Parkinson Wellness Project bringing unparalleled care back to Victoria

Therapeutic fitness sessions, educational opportunities make a ‘significant difference’ for clients

Victoria’s Parkinson Wellness Projects was ready to introduce a centre with a specificity of care not previously seen on Vancouver Island, until being forced in 2020 to significantly alter the scope of their services.

Two years later, the non-profit is preparing to relaunch its in-person services for hundreds of Parkinson’s disease patients across Greater Victoria and the Island.

The Wellness Projects financed and opened a regional fitness centre in 2019 in Blanshard Square for people with Parkinson’s. The centre introduced a “very, very new” standard of care for patients, according to Bailey Martin, the projects’ executive director. Per the recommendation of recent medical studies, the projects’ exercises were seen to slow the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms.

“With Parkinson’s, movements often become slower,” Martin said. As such, their fitness routines focus on exaggerated forcible movements such as boxing, ball pass and other activities. “Making sure people are up tall, assisting with stiffness and rigidity,” she said.

READ ALSO: Folks step up to raise money for Parkinson Society of B.C. with SuperWalk

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that causes a gradual deterioration of balance and coordination, among other symptoms. Canada sees 25 new diagnoses a day, according to Parkinson Canada. Greater Victoria has an estimated 1,200 diagnosed patients, a total projected to double by 2031. The Parkinson Wellness Project previously served 250 patients weekly.

With resources scarce for Parkinson’s patients on Vancouver Island, accessing the Wellness Project’s services has made a “significant difference” in their lives, Martin said. The centre ran 18 weekly fitness courses prior to shutting down due to the pandemic in early 2020. The goal is to reopen soon for in-person fitness offerings and expand education sessions, while adhering to current public health restrictions.

Those education sessions include working with doctors Omesh Kulkarni and Kieran Tuck, Island neurologists specializing in Parkinson’s therapy. Tips from their seminars, ranging from advanced methods of treatment to swallowing techniques, can help slow the progression of the disease and maintain patients’ independence, Martin said.

Behind the scenes, she hopes the recently announced appointment to the project’s board of Carole James – a former client – will open up more avenues for the non-profit. James is well connected, having served as B.C. deputy premier and minister of finance, along with holding senior positions in other organizations.

Among the things James may be asked to help with, Martin said, is to help the organization “build a better relationship with Island Health.”

READ ALSO: Carole James stays on to advise B.C. Premier John Horgan

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