American Parkinson’s Disease Association holds forum for April Awareness Month

Mitchell Lafrance

Students, faculty and other members of the Ames community convened Friday afternoon at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center to learn more about Parkinson’s disease and how it impacts people.

The Iowa Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association hosted a forum that featured two guest speakers and a poster presentation that followed the lectures.

Gammon Earhart, who has a doctor of physical therapy degree, talked about how it is important for those with Parkinson’s disease to remain active.

An interesting activity Earhart proposed to help those with Parkinson’s was tango dancing classes. She discussed how the dancing can be beneficial to those who suffer from Parkinson’s, as it involves many different movements and is an enjoyable activity.

“It incorporates small steps, starting and stopping and walking backward,” she said. “A lot of those movements are things that people with Parkinson’s say can be difficult to do in day-to-day life. [Tango is] a way of practicing those movements while also being a multitasking activity.”

Earhart conducted a test during the classes that took place over a year, measuring balance scores from when the participants began to three months after participants had been in the tango classes. 

“The balance scores of those who did the tango dancing for three months were higher than those who hadn’t engaged in those activities,” Earhart said. “We also saw nine out of 10 people wanted to continue the dancing classes after the tests were completed.”

Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor in the kinesiology department, was one of the organizers for the event this year.

“The main goal of the forum is to provide current data and research concerning Parkinson’s disease,” Stegemöller said. “It’s mainly geared toward the Parkinson’s disease community and also students and faculty who want to learn more about the disease.”

While finding a cure is important, Stegemöller said there are other things people can do to advocate for Parkinson’s.

“A lot of people talk about finding a cure and that’s great, but what can we do to help those living with Parkinson’s now?” Stegemöller said. “A cure most likely won’t be found in the near future, so if we bring light to the disease, maybe the community can have a better understanding of what it is and how they can help those who have it.”

Anumantha Kanthasamy, who has a doctorate in biochemistry and teaches biomedical sciences at Iowa State, spoke at the conference about how Parkinson’s impacts people on the molecular and cellular level.

Kanthasamy’s research at Iowa State examines a variety of neurodegenerative disorders such as prion diseases and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). His research has led to several patents that aid in helping those with Parkinson’s.   

After the speeches, a poster collection displaying research by students and faculty illustrated different studies on Parkinson’s.

One study by Stephanie Masek, senior in kinesiology, and Stegemöller looked at how someone’s acoustic environment may impact their gait which is how someone walks.

“We played various songs and looked at how it affects the way someone walks,” Masek said. “The number of steps someone takes while listening to an upbeat song is higher than someone who listens to a slower song.”

The event concluded with attendees conversing with the speakers and other student researchers about their lives and how Parkinson’s has impacted them.