MDT Education Solutions: Adapting Group Exercise Programs for People with PD

When PD Gladiators learned that it had been awarded $15,000 in grants from the National Parkinson Foundation in June to subsidize and promote safe, fun and effective group exercise programs for people with PD, one of the first decisions our Board made was to rely on a new company, MDT Education Solutions, LLC, to provide us with a pool of instructors who understood that “safe” and “effective” were priority one. Why did we put our trust in a new venture? Because the founders (and trainers) behind MDT are Drs. Madeleine Hackney, Doherty Riebesell and Tricia Creel, the three most dedicated advocates of exercise as a primary therapy for PD in Atlanta. Dr. Hackney is an Emory researcher known for her Tango and PD studies, and Drs. Riebesell and Creel are physical therapists specializing in the treatment of neurologic disorders, with an emphasis on PD.

The three experts were convinced by the emerging research that people with PD benefit from many different types of exercise but recognized that when they finished physical therapy, it was often difficult for them to continue exercising on their own. Many were still not comfortable exercising in a general population setting, and there were very few PD-specific exercise options in the Atlanta area.

“Many group fitness instructors and personal trainers had very limited knowledge of the specific movement impairments that PD can cause and how exercise can help,” Dr. Hackney notes. “An MDT-trained instructor knows how to adapt exercises for the specific needs of people with PD. That includes helping select the appropriate intensity level, keeping everyone safe, and addressing specific movement impairments. “

MDT Education Solutions held its first training course, “Community Exercise for People with Parkinson’s Disease,” in August, and several graduates have joined the PD Gladiators Metro Atlanta Fitness Network as instructors and personal trainers. A second course was held in November at the YMCA of Metro Atlanta’s request to train instructors for the PD Gladiators at the Y program, among others. Overall, MDT has trained almost 60 fitness professionals how to work with people with PD!

“The most impressive thing about the participants in our training classes was how quickly they came to care about the Parkinson’s community,” Dr. Creel says. “They understood that this is a very special group of people who will benefit greatly from the services they offer. They left the training inspired and excited.”

But the founders of MDT recognize that while making high quality, accessible exercise options available is an important step, that alone is not enough to sustain the exercise infrastructure they have encouraged. They see the biggest challenge faced by the community as helping people with PD overcome barriers to starting and adhering to an exercise program.

“We have all seen first-hand the tremendous benefits that exercise can bring,“ Dr. Riebesell says. “We very much want to share that hope with as many people as we possibly can.  Unfortunately, without participation many of these wonderful exercise classes will not continue to be available.”

 MDT Education Solutions, LLC is not affiliated with PD Gladiators. Visit their website to learn more about the training services they provide to independent fitness instructors and personal trainers interested in adapting their services to people with movement disorders.

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