When Allan Cole first noticed a twitch in his left index finger in the fall of 2016, he brushed it off as no big deal.
Soon after, stiffness in his left hand and trouble typing ensued. His wife, Tracey, nudged him to see a neurologist.
Cole was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A UT professor, and father of two young girls, he was only 48 years old.
“I was shocked, to say the least,” Cole says. “I thought I was simply overdoing it at the gym. After all, I was active, ate well, got sleep, drank modestly — I’d always been healthy.”
Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease. The most common signs and symptoms can include tremors, slowed movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, loss of automatic movements and speech or writing changes.
More than one million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s, affecting more people than multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s Disease combined.
The average onset age for Parkinson’s Disease is 60, but people as young as 18 have been diagnosed. While there is no cure, medications can help and exercise has been proven to slow Parkinson’s degenerative effects on the mind, body and voice.
Since his diagnosis, Cole hasn’t skipped a beat, though. He has learned as much about the disease as possible, found ways to adjust and support his health and become involved with Parkinson’s organizations like Power for Parkinson’s in Austin.
Founded in 2013 by Austinites Nina Mosier, M.D., and Susan Stahl, M.Ed., Power for Parkinson’s hosts free, daily exercise classes for people who live with Parkinson’s (and their caregivers). Not all attendees have been active all their lives. So, classes with names like Move & Shout, Dancing with Parkinson’s and Strength & Balance are built for fun and inclusivity. The classes are also led by exercise instructors with positive, upbeat personalities. There’s even a singing group called The Powerful Pipes, which helps attendees strengthen their vocal cords.
In January, Power for Parkinson’s launched a new class for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s before age 55. Every Saturday, this group meets for a vigorous circuit training class. While classes keep participants physically active and strong, and help to slow the effects of Parkinson’s, attendees also benefit from their shared experience with the disease.
“The importance of people supporting each other cannot be emphasized enough,” Mosier says. “Like the weekday classes, this group has formed a camaraderie from their shared diagnosis and are enjoying the benefits that exercise has for people managing Parkinson’s Disease.”
Cole also exercises on his own each week.
He began running because of his Parkinson’s Disease. He’s completed the 3M Half Marathon, the 200-mile Texas Independence Relay (with a team of 12), and he ran his first Austin Marathon this February.
“Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn how to be active. I was a team sports guy in high school and college and I always loved the gym,” Cole says. “Exercise is vital for movement disorders, so now I exercise five to six times a week. It’s given me endurance and fitness and, surprisingly, I’ve never been in better shape!”
Cole has also joined the Power for Parkinson’s Board of Directors and is engaged with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
“I feel so fortunate to live in a city that has an organization like Power for Parkinson’s,” Cole says. “It helps countless people each week and has given me a positive outlet as well.”
Power for Parkinson’s launched six years ago by offering three classes to a handful of people. Now they offer 13 classes at nine locations, helping hundreds of Austinites manage the disease’s symptoms, improve state of mind and enjoy the benefits of a community who understands what they’re going through.
Classes are offered in Central/East/South and Northwest Austin, Round Rock and Lakeway. You can also find recorded classes on YouTube. For more information about Power for Parkinson’s, visit powerforparkinsons.org or call 512.464.1277.