Thursday, 24 July 2014

Encounter with a Parkinson's disease student


I've been a swimming coach for almost 13 years. Everytime an adult student who wish to learn to swim would ask me how many lessons it take for them to swim. Based on my records, adults take a maximum of 4 lessons to learn (without water phobia).

The challenge for me came when a lady with Parkinson's disease approached me to teach her to swim. She told me, "I've Parkinson's disease. I need to exercise. Doctor told me that if I don't exercise, I will be paralyzed. I like to learn to swim but I am afraid of water. Can you help me, Teacher Jerry?"

I told her I've no experience with Parkinson's disease. In fact, I don't even know what Parkinson's was back then. However, I am willing to teach so long as she is willing to learn. Usually, adults learn in 4 lessons. For her case, I will try my best. Even if it were to take 6 months, I will.

For the purpose of visualization on my lessons, we first need to know what Parkinson's disease is. According to Wikipedia:

"Parkinson's disease (PD also known as idiopathic or primary parkinsonism, hypokinetic rigid syndrome/HRS, or paralysis agitans) is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. The motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease result from the death of dopamine-generating cells in the substantia nigra, a region of the midbrain; the cause of this cell death is unknown. Early in the course of the disease, the most obvious symptoms are movement-related; these include shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty with walking and gait. Later, thinking and behavioral problems may arise, with dementia commonly occurring in the advanced stages of the disease, whereas depression is the most common psychiatric symptom. Other symptoms include sensory, sleep and emotional problems. Parkinson's disease is more common in older people, with most cases occurring after the age of 50."

As we can see, the main issue with Parkinson's disease lies in their movement. I had to be very mindful of her every movement in the water. If she slips, there is no way she can stand up on her own. Even if it's at a 1.0m pool.

Flotation was another issue. Whenever she tries floating, her head will shake rigidly, way beyond her control. I taught her breaststroke.  As she had difficulty with her movement, I got her to try her best to extend her legs. Often, she would tell me she can feel that  her legs are heavy and sinking. I had to try. It was difficult but there was no way I'm giving up on her.

As the Chinese saying goes, “皇天不负苦心人”, those  who work hard shall be rewarded. She did it! She overcame her fear of sinking, her fear of water and most importantly she's able to swim in the water now. This week, she managed to swim 100m (2 laps) of the pool with a board. And can managed to float around 3 meters. Not bad for someone with her current condition to achieve this level after just 8 lessons. Give her time and I believe she will be swimming around the pool on her own.


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