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'Busy and active and socially happy' despite Parkinson's diagnosis

Larry and Joan Holverson of Alexandria have been dealing with Larry's Parkinson's disease for about seven years. They've received a lot of help and support from local Neurofit classes and a Parkinson's support group. (Photo by Tara Bitzan)

After 33 years of harried deadlines and countless evenings and weekends spent covering area sporting events, Larry Holverson was looking forward to retirement.

But his vision of what retirement looked like changed considerably just two weeks before he wrapped up his career. In May 2007, the Echo Press sports editor was told he had Parkinson's disease (PD).

It was a nurse with family connections who first suspected Larry may have Parkinson's. She saw him at an event and was concerned with the way he shuffled his feet. She shared her thoughts with a family member who relayed them to Larry's wife, Joan.

Joan talked with Larry and they made a medical appointment. Neither had any concerns up to that point.

"I had noticed that my handwriting was getting small and I was having a hard time reading it, but that was about it," Larry recalled.

A local physician referred them to a neurologist from Minneapolis. That doctor studied Larry's gait, writing and speech, and soon declared that he suffered from PD.

While there is no cure for PD, there are treatments that help control the symptoms, including medications, exercise, diet and personal support.

Instead of spending time grieving the diagnosis, the Holversons got busy looking for information and support.

They began attending monthly support group meetings (see sidebar for more information) and signed Larry up to attend Neurofit classes at Nelson Gables in Alexandria.

Neurofit is a unique, progressive wellness program for those living with neurological movement disorders. The classes focus not only on improving flexibility, balance and strength, but also improving the mindfulness each participant brings to their movements.

Larry attends one-hour classes three times a week, and attends a half-hour swimming class two times a week.

"I give that class credit for where I am," he said. "All the people there are so helpful and kind. They are so well trained. They add new things all the time to keep it interesting and fun, but they work us hard and push us.

"I just can't say enough about the instructors," he added. "They're just awesome.

"He gets homework, too," Joan added. "He has exercises he's supposed to do at home. It's imperative that he move quite a bit every day."

Larry sees the neurologist two times a year, and will soon begin seeing a physical therapist for some additional help. He is also on daily medications to ease his symptoms.

In the six years since he was diagnosed, Larry has been able to maintain his lifestyle without many changes and the couple has remained active and enjoyed retirement.

They've traveled, frequently go out to eat, play cards with friends every week and volunteer with the Elder Network Senior Companion program.

Larry also plays dart ball with a church group and has some regular coffee dates with friends and relatives.

"I'm busy and active and socially happy," he said.

Recently, he said he's had some decreased balance and movement issues, and his voice is getting weaker.

"I tire more easily than I used to, but we still go a lot," Larry said. "It just takes me a little longer!"

He is fortunate to not suffer from the tremors that are a common PD side effect, although he did suffer for a while from nighttime thrashing, which is also a common symptom.

"He would have vivid dreams and thrash like crazy," Joan said. Ironically, the long-time sports editor said his dreams were usually sports-related. A medication was prescribed that stopped the thrashing.

As the loved one of someone affected by PD, Joan finds the support group meetings especially helpful.

"They are wonderful from every aspect," she said. "We learn from one another, share concerns and form friendships. The education and understanding are so helpful.

She noted that there are typically 25 to 30 people at the monthly meetings.

Joan said her biggest challenge has been trying not to help Larry too much.

"I have to remember to let him do things for himself," Joan said. "I want to help as much as I can, but not help too much. He has to do things for himself in order to keep his strength in those areas."

She added that Larry keeps a positive attitude, and that makes everything much easier.

"I really don't have anything to be down about," he replied. "I've been really blessed, and life is really good."

WHAT IS PARKINSON'S DISEASE?

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic, progressive neurological disease that causes the brain cells that control movement to die without being replaced. It usually develops after age 65, but is diagnosed in people in their 30s, 40s and 50s as well.

While PD itself is not fatal, the Center for Disease Control rated complications from it as the 14th top cause of death in the U.S. Minnesota ranks third in the U.S. in the number of people affected by the disease.

Symptoms may include slow movement, tremors, rigidity, masked facial expressions, difficulty with posture and balance, cramped handwriting, reduced arm swing, foot drag and low voice volume or muffled speech.

There is currently no cure for PD; however, there are treatments that help control the symptoms, including medications, exercise, diet and personal support.

For more information, call the National Parkinson Foundation at 1-800-473-4636 or visit www.parkinson.org.

LOCAL SUPPORT GROUP

The Alexandria Area Parkinson's Support Group began in 1998 and offers a safe, confidential place for people whose lives have been touched by Parkinson's disease to come together. The group is for those with Parkinson's disease as well as for caregivers and loved ones.

The group meets the fourth Wednesday of each month at 3 p.m. in the Governor's Room at Nelson Gables in Alexandria. Meetings include education and sharing. The entire group meets together at the beginning, and then those with the disease stay together to discuss concerns, while caregivers and loved ones meet together in another area for discussion.

Facilitators are Val Trumm, RN, parish nurse at First Lutheran Church, and Ashley Steen, RN, case manager for Knute Nelson Home Care. The support group is sponsored by the Parish Health Ministry of First Lutheran Church. For more information, call Trumm at (320) 762-2196 or e-mail val.trumm@firstlutheranalexandria.com.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

(320) 763-1211
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