David Smedley first noticed it while working in his wood shop in Michigan’s rural Mason County. His left hand would shake. Then, his wife noticed he would drag his feet while walking.
After that, his symptoms grew progressively worse.
Doctors soon diagnosed Smedley with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic and progressive movement disorder that affects more than a million people in the U.S. Public awareness of the disease has increased in recent years with the diagnosis of celebrities such as Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali.
I thought this disease was going to keep me from working as much in my wood shop. But thanks to this program, I’m back in the shop doing just about anything I want.
The disease cannot be cured, but treatment may help.
Big and Loud is part of the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment Program. The Loud component entails speech and voice therapy, while the Big component—offered at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital’s Outpatient Rehabilitation—uses similar concepts tailored for physical therapy.
The program’s research-based exercise uses exaggerated motions while sitting or standing to enhance limb movement, balance and overall quality of life.
Smedley enrolled in the Big program at Ludington Hospital.
“I had symptoms for about four or five years before entering the program,” said the 77-year-old woodworker from Free Soil, Mich. “It was limiting what I could do in my wood shop.”
“My hand shook all the time,” he explained. “When you’re working with a wood lathe or a table saw, you need two good hands. If you’re trying to hold a piece of wood and one of your hands is shaking, you’re just asking to get your fingers cut off.”
Smedley admits he was skeptical, thinking the month-long program wouldn’t work for him. Much to his surprise, he started to see results right away.
“We did a lot of different exercises to get my hands and feet working together,” he said. “They taught me how to do things big, such as opening my hand up wide, walking and climbing stairs by taking big steps instead of dragging my feet.”
Most of all, Smedley found himself amazed at how he could use his hand again and control the shaking.
“I thought this disease was going to keep me from working as much in my wood shop,” he said. “But thanks to this program, I’m back in the shop doing just about anything I want. I used to feel that my left hand was useless and I don’t feel this way anymore.”
He’s also back to playing with his 30 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren, including 2-year-old Sarah, whom he babysits daily.
“She goes with me all over and says, ‘Walk big, Papa,’” Smedley said, holding back tears.
A way out
Parkinson’s disease wasn’t Smedley’s first health scare. Doctors diagnosed him with polio at age 14.
“That’s when I learned that nobody tells you that you can’t do something,” he said. “You just figure out a way to get it done. “
He took that approach with Parkinson’s and used the Big program to control the symptoms.
“I work the program into anything I’m doing,” he said. “If I’m walking, I take big steps so I don’t drag my feet anymore. I do the same thing with my hand.”
The Big program is a four-week course administered in 16 one-hour classes. Patients focus on performing seven daily exercises along with functional tasks such as sit-to-stand training and “Big” walking. Functional tasks are tailored to each patient based on individual need.
“Because David enjoys woodworking, we tried to tailor his program around his hobby,” said Jennifer Higley, PT, of Spectrum Health. “His treatment focused a lot on using big hand movements when completing upper extremity tasks. And because David walks in the woods to cut down materials for his projects, we focused on walking on uneven ground, stepping over obstacles and carrying items while walking.”
While Smedley has been surprised at the program’s success, therapists aren’t quite as shocked.
“It doesn’t take long before patients see the benefit and how it helps to improve day-to-day function,” Higley said. “For David, we saw significant improvement after just two weeks.”