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How an Instructor Tailored Tai Chi Class for Parkinson's Disease Patients

September 22, 2017 - This is the excerpt from Dr. Suzanne Droleskey's full article about her class. ATCQA members and certified instructors/practitioners can read the full content of this article on ATCQA website. Sign in your ATCQA account and then click the link for "Study Materials".

A number of research studies have proved improvements among Parkinson's disease patients who practice Tai Chi. This prompted the Confucius Institute of Texas A&M University to partner with a community organization, the Young Onset Parkinson's Disease Support Group (YOPDSG), in the Brazos Valley region of Texas to provide a Tai Chi class for its members, taught by Dr. Suzanne Droleskey. Dr. Droleskey, an ATCQA certified Tai Chi Instructor, teaches both for the Confucius Institute and the Department of Kinesiology at Texas A&M. After the class had been in progress for seven months, participants were surveyed about the impact of the class and the quality of instruction they had received..

Dr. Suzanne Droleskey teaching Tai Chi to a patient with Parkinson's Disease.

Survey Findings
According to the survey results, the Tai Chi students have grown in their confidence to perform Tai Chi skills. The majority of the class felt comfortable performing some of the Yang style positions on their own.

More important than what they learned, however, were the impacts participants reported on other aspects of their lives. Knowledge and understanding gained in class, as well as physical improvements caused all respondents to report an improvement in balance, and nine out of eleven identified improvements in body alignment. Of course, these are among the key foundational skills required in tai chi, and much class focus was put on attaining these. A number of the students who had stooped posture at the start of the classes, were much more upright in their positioning at the time of the survey. One participant indicated in class that he had noticed new art on the walls for the first time in several years because he was looking up more than before.

Other improvements described by participants in the survey include flexibility, the ability to stand for longer periods of time, increased strength, and reduced tripping.

Ten of the eleven survey respondents indicated that the class had exceeded their expectations, and one that it met their expectations. 100% of respondents noted that the class has fostered a positive impact on the local community; several expressed that the class has helped them better their quality of life.

Instructional Observations
Overall, the class appears to be a success from the students' perspective. For the instructor, the engagement with this community and the ability to have a positive impact on their lives has been enormously satisfying, given the results students have experienced, as well as challenging, from an instructional perspective. The class focused for almost three months on such Tai Chi for health skills such as, body alignment, basic stances, balance exercises, and strengthening exercises, partly because the students needed it, but partly for the instructor to gain experience with and have better understanding of their abilities and needs. It was only after this assessment period, that a plan formed for teaching tai chi movements, not as a traditional form or sequence, but as individual movements that could be strung together from a stationary position. This teaching methodology allowed the class to gain skills and experience, reinforce the stances already practiced, and learn more complex movements without the extra mental and physical stress of having to move around the room or remember directions and movement patterns.

While having Parkinson's disease patients participate in a general class with students not impacted by this disease is beneficial, the degree to which someone's movements are limited by Parkinson's could be a factor that would have prevented some of the students from joining such a class or benefitting fully from their engagement in one. By working with the YOPDSG community, it was possible to design a course specifically for them, focusing on their needs and incorporating discussions of movements and issues that are unique to this population.




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