The organizers of a budding central Ohio nonprofit group believe education and exercise can stem the progression of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
For Upper Arlington resident Mark Luciano, a co-founder of the Institute for Movement and Therapeutic Exercise Research (IMTER), the fight to remain mobile is personal. He was diagnosed with the early onset of Parkinson’s disease in February 2011 at the age of 51.
Luciano, vice president of SmartPros, a provider of accredited education and training, already had witnessed the debilitative effects of Parkinson’s on his grandmother and aunt. He also knew there is no cure for the progressive disorder of the nervous system.
“It was a gradual decline for me,” Luciano said. “Originally, it started with posture and some movement issues.
“When someone would call my name, I was turning almost my whole body to look. My steps were becoming shorter, about half of what they should be, mixed in with a shuffle, and once I got going, I couldn’t stop.”
Seeing few options other than medications that typically lose effectiveness after five to seven years, Luciano agreed to participate in an Ohio State University study to determine if exercise could help slow the progress of the disease.
That experience convinced Luciano he could benefit from specific exercises, and he subsequently teamed with Dr. Deb Kegelmeyer, an associate professor of health and rehabilitation sciences at OSU, and longtime business partner Ann Boland to found IMTER.
The nonprofit organization conducts research for the advancement of therapeutic exercise to improve mobility and management of symptoms. Through IMTER, the trio is seeking to introduce NeuKinetics, customized exercise systems to help people suffering from conditions such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke, geriatric ailments and other medical conditions.
“In the mid- to late-’90s we started getting clinical trials back that showed exercise is very beneficial (to people with movement disorders),” said Kegelmeyer, a Hilliard resident who has been using exercise as therapy for people with Parkinson’s since 1987.
While Kegelmeyer acknowledges exercise is not a “cure-all” for movement disorders, she said IMTER and NeuKinetics continue to shape personalized exercise programs for patients that slow the progress of their disorders, keep them active and work to improve muscle strength and coordination.
“Exercise is kind of like a drug,” she said. “You have to take the right dose. One of our challenges in prescribing group programs is making sure exercises are individualized so everyone benefits.”
Luciano said the exercise regimens vary.
“We use bands around the ankles and practice walking to build strength,” he said. “We use light weights and do various arm exercises to build strength.
“Then it’s a combination of a number of things to build balance. We do things like lunges to improve strides, exercises where you put a ladder on the floor and step in and out of it, and we use treadmills and bikes.”
The IMTER founders maintain that combining neuroscience, exercise and technology that charts exercise and its results can help people improve mobility, stability, gait and posture.
“I started with a low dosage of medicine and balanced that with a high dosage of exercise,” Luciano said. “I’ve managed to stay at the very same level of drugs I started with in 2011, and my symptoms are manageable.”
On June 5, IMTER kicked off a campaign to spread awareness about the use of personalized exercise programs to combat movement disorders through a fundraiser at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Columbus.
That event – and others to follow – are aimed at helping IMTER raise money to further develop instructor-led exercise programs that can be conducted at rehabilitation facilities, senior centers and in private homes.
“We hope to raise funds to put programs in communities where people are having problems, and we want to be able to fund monitors so people can have ongoing support systems,” Kegelmeyer said.
Luciano said IMTER organizers also want to create a research hub to obtain grants for future projects.
“We want to be an education and research think tank … but we also want to provide funding to researchers,” he said. “Long-term, we want to be able to fund exercise programs for underserved communities that don’t have the means, or for individuals who need exercise (therapy) but can’t afford it.”
Additional information about IMTER, including ways in which to contribute to the organization, is available at imter.org. Information about NeuKinetics is available at neukinetics.com.