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Taking a Swing at Parkinson’s

Taking a Swing at Parkinson’s
April 11, 2024 Travis Bowles

Taking a Swing at Parkinson’s

Kinesiology Students Support Patients While Gaining Real-world Experience

Parkinson’s disease patients are combatting their symptoms through a series of activities that encourage movement and were customized by students in our Department of Kinesiology and Sport Management (KNSM).

Since the spring of 2020, Dr. Deanna Kennedy of KNSM has partnered with The Robert Conte Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders to host students from her class at Rock Steady Boxing College Station. Rock Steady is the local affiliate of a national non-contact boxing and fitness program that seeks to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s.

Kinesiology students performed hands-on motor assessments and developed plans to help “fighters,” the term used for patients in the program combatting Parkinson’s. “[The program] opened my eyes to the differences in how people have to live their lives and the kinds of activities they do,” said Carter Hartman, a kinesiology student. “It helped me see why I do what I do because movement is important across the whole lifespan, and you can’t really ever take it for granted.”

Kinesiology students and Parkinson's "fighters" all gather around and put their hands in for a final group cheer.

Kinesiology students and Parkinson’s “fighters” gather to share a group cheer.

The personalized plans also feature activities like yoga, dance therapy, brain games and strength training. Students continue to meet with fighters and modify plans based on feedback and assessments.

“Working with a patient population gives them hands-on experience with their future clientele,” said Dr. Kennedy. “It’s something they can write about in their applications, talk about in interviews and it just gives them a lot more experience than normal. So it’s bidirectional; it helps the students, it helps the fighters.”

Parkinson’s frequently hinders movement in various ways, but movement can be the best medicine to overcome these symptoms. While the customized motor programs help overcome personal challenges, the social interaction between “fighters” and students offers an added benefit — someone to talk with and share stories. The patients, “love to know they have people in their corner supporting them and backing them up, and they support us and back us up in our corner,” said Madison Weinrich, doctoral student and graduate research assistant.

Kinesiology student partners with Parkinson's "fighter" to practice on punching bag.

A Kinesiology student partners with a Parkinson’s “fighter” at Rock Steady Boxing College Station.

Many of the “fighters” are former Texas A&M professors, who are excited to bond and serve students again in a new capacity. “Dr. Kennedy is using such innovative ways to teach future physical therapists how to recognize, how to work with and how to encourage,” said Marica Drost, current “fighter” and former Texas A&M math professor. “I really appreciate the support of the students. They feel like they’re a good friend, not just a future physical therapist.”

Texas A&M University recognized the benefits of this partnership, with its Student Government Association awarding Dr. Kennedy the inaugural Community Impact Award for her efforts highlighting volunteerism and improving communities.

For media inquiries, contact Ruben Hidalgo.

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