Parkinson's PatientIn 2012, Gerard “Gerry” Crème was working full-time as an elementary school teacher when he started experiencing weakness on the left side of his body.

After several appointments with his primary care physician and neurologist, and undergoing neurological tests, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD). At first, it was difficult for him to accept the diagnosis, mainly because he wasn’t familiar with what Parkinson’s was and how it would affect him.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that forms when the brain stops making enough dopamine, which affects the movement and control of our body. For some patients, this may happen due to genetics or exposure to different types of chemicals, but for the vast majority of patients, it’s unknown why dopamine production starts to diminish.

Parkinson’s often starts on one side of the body, where people may notice a tremor or shaking in their hand, arm or leg. The disease can often impact walking – causing people to shuffle along the floor instead of walking normally. Loss of motor control, a soft or raspy voice and a change in facial expression or lack of emotion are also associated with Parkinson’s. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a specialist.

After his diagnosis, Gerry began doing physical therapy with the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network to improve his walking, balance, and overall function. Physical therapy and intense aerobic activity has been shown to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and slow its progression. His team of therapists now guide him through a program that combats the specific symptoms of the disease, and helps to reduce his risk of falls by encouraging larger movements and improving his multitasking skills.

Gerry stays active to keep his symptoms in check by attending Hartford HealthCare’s Parkinson’s Movement Disorders wellness classes. A variety of classes are offered including yoga, tai chi, boxing and dance. There are also classes led by physical and occupational therapists offered to rehab “graduates” to help them maintain their mobility. The exercises are designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders by targeting balance, flexibility and muscle building.

“Having a therapist leading the class was beyond exceptional,” said Gerry. “The instructor ensures we are doing the exercises correctly and makes necessary modifications along the way.”

Instead of being discouraged, Gerry focuses on what he can do successfully. He recalls a moment that helped to change his mind about his own ability. When Caitlin Rinaldi, a physical therapist at Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network, asked Gerry to do something and he responded, “I can’t,” Caitlin asked, “Do you mean you can’t, or do you mean it’s difficult?” She explained that if he worked on it he would be able to do it. Gerry shared that this was the encouragement he needed in order to push himself to live his best, healthiest life with Parkinson’s.

Gerry’s advice to people who are newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is straightforward – “Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do.” Whenever he faces something difficult, he thinks of Caitlin asking if he can’t do it or if it’s just difficult.

“The more classes and physical therapy I did, the more I realized they offered the most important thing – which is hope,” said Gerry.

“More life in your life – that sticks with me. Hartford HealthCare gives you more life in your life.”