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Valuable Assist

Interns and university-based program helping people with Parkinson’s

Peter Carlson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago. Nevertheless, you can still find him regularly lacing up his boxing gloves.

And he’s eager to share how physical and vocal exercise with guidance and support from Bridgewater State University students helps him fight the progression of Parkinson's disease, a nervous system disorder that affects movement and speaking ability. 

“They’re cheering you on and pushing you,” Carlson said of the students. “It really provides a great service for us.”

Carlson boxes at 110 Fitness, a Rockland wellness center committed to serving people with Parkinson’s and other disabilities. The organization welcomed several BSU interns this spring. 110 Fitness also refers Parkinson’s clients to SPEAK OUT! and LOUD Crowd training, where BSU speech-language pathology graduate students and staff help them become more confident communicators.

The programs offer important educational benefits for students such as Kristi Concheri, ’21, who studied motor development therapy and adapted physical education. Interning at 110 Fitness, she helped clients kick their legs in the pool and box.

“I’ve learned a lot of practical things,” Concheri said. “I’ve also learned how to work with people. Everybody requires different things even if they have the same illness or disability.”

Students served people of varying abilities and ages, including some with dementia. They were eager to lend a hand and expand their knowledge, said Brett Miller, 110 Fitness’ owner and head coach.

“It’s been a really awesome experience,” Miller said. “It’s nice to have extra help and also help wanting to learn.”

Concheri pursued this career path after observing the professionals who provided her daughter therapy for a stiff neck. 

At 110 Fitness, she saw clients re-learn how to work a zipper and complete other everyday tasks they had struggled to accomplish.

“I didn’t think there was anything that would slow down the progression of this disease,” she said. “But physical activity can slow it down. … It really improves people’s quality of life.”

Parkinson’s also affects speech, which is why graduate students aim to improve clients’ quality of voice, loudness and overall confidence in communicating.

“I think the Parkinson’s program especially has shown me the importance of what we do and how we’re giving voice to individuals,” said Cyndi Cram, ’19, G’21.

The program mirrors what Cram and Olivia Vigliatura, G’21, will face in their careers, including working with a client over many months.

“Having the continuity has been a valuable experience,” Vigliatura said. “It’s helped me form relationships with them and learn how to build interpersonal skills.”

Carlson appreciates students’ commitment.

“I find the students got involved in knowing us and knowing our disabilities,” he said. “They bring new ideas. ...  It’s refreshing, enjoyable and very productive.”

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