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Retired postie credits rehab for slowing Parkinson’s progress

Sixty-seven-year-old Wayne Nye considers himself lucky. He has a wonderful family, is still happily married to the girl he met on his postal round 47 years ago, and laughingly admits it had been a good decision to buy a home in Greenwich way before the Sydney property market skyrocketed!.

Wayne worked for Australia Post for almost 50 years. The pay was fair and it was a job he loved. However, he now wonders if the physical rigours of his position masked early signs of Parkinson’s disease.

“I was a dock supervisor in the last 16 years of my working life, which involved lots of physical work,” said Wayne. “I wore my left shoulder out and I had to have a replacement, and then I compensated with my right shoulder. That’s where I got confused about Parkinson’s.”

He started to get very painful shoulders and cramps in his feet at night which he thought could have been his arches collapsing due to the physical nature of his work. He was sixty-six at the time. It wasn’t until he developed a tremor in his foot and hand when he went to the doctor.

The neurologist diagnosed Parkinson’s disease which rocked Wayne’s wife, Debbie. Wayne says she burst into tears in the surgery and said how hard they’d both worked and just as they were nearing retirement, they had to face this. “I was upset to see her upset” said Wayne. “But I’ve always felt it wasn’t the end of the world and that the rate of deterioration was up to me.”

Making everyday life easier a key rehabilitation goal

A few months later, Wayne was referred to Royal Rehab Private Hospital to benefit from a personalised multidisciplinary therapy program. In January 2021, he began his program of two 90-minute sessions per week in the Day Rehabilitation program.

According to Luke Maddalena, Senior Exercise Physiologist, the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach are many.

’At Royal Rehab Private we take a holistic approach where clients have access to a range of allied health professionals who all work together to deliver comprehensive care that addresses as many of the patient’s needs as possible. From physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists, to exercise physiologists, and dietitians, we bring together the most appropriate mix of skills to help our clients achieve their goals, all under the direction of rehabilitation specialists.’’

At Wayne’s first session, the Royal Rehab team assessed his function and the impact of Parkinson’s on his quality of life before helping Wayne set goals for his program. Specifically, Wayne wanted to improve his balance to reduce the risk of falling, retain the fine motor skills he needed in everyday life, and regain strength in his speech which was fading.

“I was losing ability to use my right hand for things like doing up buttons and sometimes I’d drop my fork while trying to have a meal,” said Wayne. “I also found it really hard to hold a razor and turn it into position to shave. I mentioned it and the team gave me exercises using bolts and nuts of different sizes that I had to undo and retighten.”

Wayne made a small version of the nuts and bolts aid at home and still carries it in his pocket. He plays with it when he can including when he’s while waiting for a takeaway coffee. He also keeps spring-loaded grips in the car to use while stopped at traffic lights. The car is also a place where he practices the vocalising exercises the Royal Rehab speech therapist gave him to maintain his speech and relax his larynx.

Royal Rehab Rehabilitation Specialist Dr. Anuka Parapuram also gave him what he considers a vital piece of advice in the first session, when she noticed he wasn’t swinging his arms when walking. She said, “Whatever you do Wayne, try to move your arms so your brain remembers what it’s supposed to do.”

Wayne says doing this takes a concerted effort, but it has improved over time. “Something as simple as noticing the sun coming up is enough to stop me concentrating which stop my arms”, Wayne said.

Timing and attitude were key to positive rehabilitation outcomes

Luke Maddalena says Wayne’s decision to seek therapy soon after diagnosis was key to his good results.

“Research tells us that the sooner someone with Parkinson’s disease starts therapy, the better, as once symptoms progress they are harder to slow,” said Luke. “Wayne saw us while his symptoms were still mild. He was very committed and motivated towards completing his exercises daily and completed them with the necessary intensity and effort. When people have his kind of attitude, it does play out well.”

Wayne says a lot of living with Parkinson’s is mindset. “‘What’s the point’ thinking means you’ve given up. It isn’t how I see things. In 12 months, I want to be close to where I am now so I keep at it.”

At the end of his program, Wayne’s quality of life score had improved significantly. PDQ-39 is a Parkinson’s Disease questionnaire that assesses how often someone with Parkinson’s Disease experiences difficulties in their daily activities. Wayne’s score had improved from 37 to 15, indicating that his condition is having less of an impact on him and his daily life. Wayne says he is moving his arms much better and this has improved his stability and gait. Wayne also participated in speech therapy which helped him increase the volume of his voice, improving his ability to communicate more confidently.

Living the new normal and advice to others

Wayne says life for him and Debbie is relatively normal.

Wayne attends a community boxing program for people with Parkinson’s disease and goes to his local swimming pool a few days a week, using water resistance to build his overall fitness and strength. He walks every morning with Debbie.

Wayne says his approach to living with Parkinson’s is not to dwell on it.

“If it hadn’t been for rehab, there’s a lot of things I wouldn’t have known. I look at others in the boxing group I belong to and many have never heard of things I’m sure have made a difference to me,” says Wayne.

“My tips for others is this – take all the advice on board, get your mindset right and go into rehabilitation as soon as possible knowing that what they’re doing for you will help you get better. Don’t close off or be negative. Try to have a positive outlook. Smile and be happy.”

Wayne attended rehabilitation with the support of his health fund. He hopes to participate again in the future as a way of managing the progression of his disease.

To learn more about Royal Rehab Private Hospital’s Day Rehabilitation Program for people with Parkinson’s disease, contact (02) 9808 0522.