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Siouxland Parkinson's group helps delay the disease, while creating community

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Health Specialist Dawn Welch tests Emily Dykstra's balance at a "Delay the Disease" class, which helps those with Parkinson's Disease retain skills impacted by the disease. Dykstra underwent a few tests to create a baseline.

SOUTH SIOUX CITY  -- Parkinson's disease can be a lonely and difficult disease, but a class at the Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA helps those diagnosed combat both the emotional and physical impacts.

The Parkinson's Disease Support Group offers education and community for those with Parkinson's, and is paired with a class called "Delay the Disease," which helps those retain physical skills that are affected.

Class instructor and group leader Dawn Welch is a health specialist at the YMCA. She said the support group addresses the mental health aspect, while the workout group helps the other physical aspects.

She said the main goal is to allow people with Parkinson's to have quality life and do their activities of daily life.

Three times a week the "Delay the Disease" group works on various  movement challenges. Some areas include balance, sitting and standing, handwriting and voice volume. 

The class costs $10 for 10 classes and are at 11 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

Studies show exercise slows the progression of Parkinson's, Welch said. The timing of the class is specifically set at 11 a.m. because studies show it is the best time of the day for those with Parkinson's. 

On Jan 12, the class did baseline tests, to eventually show how they have progressed on skills such as balance, sitting and standing, and walking. 

Deidre Engel has been attending the classes for the last four years, starting shortly after she was diagnosed. 

Engel said the class not only helps retain muscles, but it is good for morale and is challenging. Her strength and balance have improved due to the class.

Once a month, the free support group meets to discuss day-to-day issues as well as give each other support and advice. The attendees discuss anything from their diagnosis stories to ways the disease impact them.

The class also has speakers who discuss various topics regarding Parkinson's.

Welch has been leading the group for four years, and, on average, 10 people attend the meetings. Many of those individuals have attended for years. She said the group helps them cope with the disease.

On Jan. 10, the group discussed specific ways the disease impacted them, as well as how long it took for them to be diagnosed and the process of being diagnosed.

Emily Dykstra attended her first support group in January. She was diagnosed in 2018, but believes she had it for eight years prior to that. She hadn't sought help and community until now.

Dykstra struggles with day-to-day tasks such as driving, getting out of bed and remembering family member's names. She hopes the class will help her find the drive to exercise and help slow the progression.

"I'm losing my independence at the same time," Dykstra said. "Coming here is going to make a difference."

Many of those in the class agreed with Dykstra, and said the classes have helped them maintain the independence they still have.

Welch said the community members just need to take the first step. She said anyone can call her to discuss the classes and learn about how the class and support group can help. 

"People think you have to be newly diagnosed or had it a long time to come. No, it can be any stages," she said. 

For more information, contact the YMCA.

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