Mater’s Parkinson’s Wellness Group Changes Lives


Barry Gambrill noticed shaking in his left-hand but didn’t for one second think he could have Parkinson’s disease.

“My GP sent me off to a neurologist and he sat there talking to me and eventually said ‘mate, you’re classic’,” he said.

“I’ve been watching you while you’ve been talking – it’s in your left hand, it’s in your leg and it’s a little bit in your right arm.

“At that stage, I was also having a little bit of trouble swallowing and apparently that’s an issue with Parkinson’s as well.”

The Tingalpa resident is one of approximately 150,000 Australians living with Parkinson’s disease, with 50 people diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease each day.

This World Parkinson’s Day (11 April) he wants others living with Parkinson’s disease to know that they don’t have to submit to the disease and its symptoms.

“I thought I mightn’t last too long, but I’m looking long-term now,” Mr Gambrill said.

He puts his change in perspective down to Mater at Home’s Parkinson’s Wellness Group, which supports patients through speech pathology, movement exercises, mindfulness and education.

Mater at Home Speech Pathologist Georgina Meredith-Hardy is one of the program leads, and said the weekly morning session is evidenced-based.

“The speech pathology element is based on the Speak Out! program, which really aims to improve the effectiveness and naturalness of people’s speech with Parkinson’s Disease,” Ms Meredith-Hardy said.

“We know that speech pathology intervention early on helps to regain and retain speech and swallowing function.

“And that’s been evidenced in the progress our participants have made to date – their speech has improved, their swallowing has improved, their confidence has improved and their overall quality of life has improved.”

Rohan Turnley couldn’t speak more highly of the program.

The 62-year-old has cerebellar ataxia, a Parkinson’s-like condition that affects the cerebellum in the brain, which essentially controls movement.

“I knew there was something happening about 10 years ago, but I just ignored things,” Mr Turnley said.

He suffered an accident as a child and was warned that – as a result of his injuries – he’d likely to start to experience some deterioration in his 50s.

“I still live independently, and everything still works, I’m just a bit slower and coordination and balance are the main issue,” he said.

Ms Meredith-Hardy had been visiting him at home and recommended he try attending the Parkinson’s Wellness Group, as it also benefits those living with Parkinson’s-related conditions.

“I was a bit reticent at first – I didn’t want to share my afflictions with others – but I gave it a go and it’s been fun,” he said.

“The therapists are very supportive. They’ll stay behind and answer questions, help you through this or that, or continue to work with you through the Mater at Home program and come to your house for a one-on-one.”

Physiotherapist Faith Voytas said the group classes still allow for treatments to be tailored to the individuals, which helps outcomes.

“We’ll usually like the participants standing up and weight-bearing on their own two feet, but if someone is unable to do that, we have alternatives so they’re still moving those big muscles groups, they’re still stretching the particular joints or ligaments or tendons they need to, while continuing to participate in the group.”

Social Worker Tiffany Clayton leads the mindfulness component of the session, which centres around reducing stress.

“When you think about being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease or related neurological conditions, that is automatically very stressful,” Ms Clayton said.

“There are a lot of if studies that talk about the impact of stress exacerbating Parkinson’s symptoms, such as the freezing and the tremors, as well as feelings of anxiety and depression that really correlated with that diagnosis as well.

“So, we’re trying to support people in self-managing their symptoms, giving them those resources and tools so that they can adapt and face the challenges that come with being diagnosed with that condition.”

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