Andy’s life with Parkinson’s has given him numerous challenges to overcome to be able to live a full life.
Parkinson’s symptoms commonly compromise abilities- to walk, balance, get up and down from sitting in a chair, to move in bed, to coordinate movement with arms and legs and breathing, to think quickly, to make decisions, to swallow, talk, even to keep one’s eyes open.
It is a hard disease and as it goes on for many years, it becomes harder and more important than ever to meet the limitations it causes with innovative solutions.
In an article I read recently about a medical survey conducted with 309 people about swimming with Parkinson’s, 87% noticed a deterioration in their swimming capacity and 49.1 % reported near drowning experiences. The main culprits found in this and many other studies have been bradykinesia- impairment of voluntary muscle control and slow movement- and impaired limb coordination.
When Andy wants to try something new, like swimming after more than a decade of not swimming because of Parkinson’s, I read the research about it before jumping into the water. There are many positive benefits from swimming when a person has Parkinson’s, including the freedom of movement in water without any danger of falling.
I wondered, “Could we find a way for Andy to swim and not risk drowning?”
It was a mission I had to try. I started by finding an indoor pool that was shallow enough not to ever be over our heads. It also had to be warm enough to get into the water without feeling too cold. I found one and we paid the fee to go in.
That first day was a little scary and also exciting as we got into the pool together. Andy pushed off into a beautiful breast stroke and I walked beside him as he swam (HE SWAM!!!) one length. Then he swam back to make it a lap. We were giddy with smiles. I stayed next to him the whole time, as his safeguard, while he cranked out a second lap. We climbed out of the pool, warmed up in the hot tub and got dressed.
Andy swam that way, with me walking in the water next to him, 2-3 times a week, for the next month. He gained strength and went further every time. One of my brothers, a wind surfer, suggested he try wearing a neoprene life vest as an added safety measure and we did and it worked well.
At the pool in Taos one day, we saw an old friend swimming with an unusual mask and snorkel set up. She told us it was called a nose breathing snorkel and it allowed her to breathe through her nose while face down in the water. We ordered one right away and Andy became proficient using it. His distance kept increasing. Our confidence rose.