He also began to feel fatigued and sometimes had trouble gathering his thoughts.
Jan White began noticing trembling in her body about four years ago.
Perko and White, both Spring Lake residents, have Parkinson’s disease.
The disease causes their brain to stop making a chemical called dopamine. This chemical helps your body move and helps your mood, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.
The disease was named after James Parkinson, who wrote an essay in 1817 about the symptoms of the disease.
There are more than 1 million Americans who have Parkinson’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but it can be controlled in a number of ways, including exercising. Perko and White say they have found that exercise programs help them control the disease.
Perko, 70, a retired management consultant (he helped design factories) participates in the Pedaling for Parkinson’s program at the Tri-Cities Family YMCA. He also works out at the Spring Lake Fitness and Aquatic Center.
The Grand Haven Area Community Foundation provided an $8,450 grant so that Perko and others inflicted with the disease could participate in the program in which the participants pedal tandem bicycles at a rapid pace. The North Ottawa County Council on Aging also purchased a bicycle and supports the program.
Researchers have discovered that riding stationary bicycles for 40 minutes and pedaling between 80 and 90 rpms can help ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, according to Charlene Stewart, who supervises the Pedaling for Parkinson’s program at the Y. She has a group of 10 who pedal tandem bicycles three times a week.
“This is a great way for someone with Parkinson’s to deal with the disease," Stewart said. “I love these guys.”
White, 60, a music teacher at Lake Hills and Griffin elementary schools, is involved with Parkinson’s disease programs at Generation Care’s Grand Haven-area rehabilitation facility. She is being trained in B.I.G. therapy, an intensive exercise program that spans four weeks and is used to improve major motor skills — such as walking, limb movement and balance.
Generation Care also offers a Pedaling for Parkinson’s program, as well as a voice therapy program and traditional rehabilitation program.
“We are the only facility in Michigan to offer all the Parkinson’s programs,” said Holly Lookabaugh-Deur, president of Generation Care for the Grand Rapids region.
White also works out at home with some of her neighbors. Horseback riding is another way she helps control the disease.
Another therapeutic avenue for White has been her teaching career. As a music instructor, she’s constantly moving and singing.
As Perko began to experience more symptoms of Parkinson’s, he and his wife began researching the disease on the Internet. They discovered that he had 80 percent of the symptoms listed on a Parkinson’s disease website.
“I began to feel really uncomfortable with my motor skills,” recalled Perko, who moved to Spring Lake four years ago from Wisconsin. “I was having trouble gathering my thoughts.”
While medication is one solution to help control Parkinson’s, Perko was more interested in the exercise programs.
“I don’t believe in a lot of drugs,” he said.
Perko also became a patient at the renowned Cleveland Clinic, which has a special program for Parkinson’s patients.
Exercise now plays an important role in Perko’s daily activities. He rides a stationary bicycle five times a week, including twice a week at the Spring Lake Aquatic and Fitness Center. He has found the Pedaling for Parkinson’s program to be extremely helpful.
“When I get up every morning, I am very thankful,” he said.
Perko has been doing so well with his exercise program that doctors at the Cleveland Clinic told him that he doesn’t need to return for a checkup for another six months. He had been returning to the clinic every three months.
Cleveland Clinic officials are also following the progress of participants in the Y’s Pedaling for Parkinson’s program. Perko said the plan is to monitor their progress on a computer. That information will be helpful in their study of the program's benefits.
Coping with the disease
For White, the exercise programs are critical in continuing her career as a music teacher and in her everyday activities. She said support from her family and her students has been a great therapeutic help.
“Everything I am doing is keeping the disease at bay and helping me live a normal life,” White said.
White has done a lot of research into Parkinson’s. She even visited the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Fox, a Canadian-born film and TV actor, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 at the age of 30. He set up the foundation to help others.
Muhammad Ali is also a famous person with Parkinson’s.
White is training at Generation Care for an exercise program that she said she will be doing for the rest of her life.
Perko and White urge anyone showing signs of Parkinson’s disease to seek help. They are also convinced that such programs as Pedaling for Parkinson’s can make a difference for those who are diagnosed with the disease.