Saturday, February 24, 2018

Boating with Parkinson’s Disease

September 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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Exercise, fresh air, and enjoying good times with family and friends are important to boaters for many reasons. Those with Parkinson’s disease know that staying active and socializing contribute to their quality of life.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic progressive neurological disease that affects nerve cells in the brain. These are the cells that produce dopamine — a chemical neurotransmitter that transmits signals between areas of the brain. When working normally, these signals coordinate smooth and balanced muscle movement, but in those with Parkinson’s, certain cells die, leading to a lack of dopamine and an inability to organize movement commands from other parts of the brain.

There are no sophisticated blood or lab tests; imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans may be used to rule out other disorders. Diagnosis is based on the doctor’s examination of the patient, so those suffering a tremor (or shaking that begins on one side of the body), slowness of movement, stiffness, aching or other joint pains, balance and coordination problems, and/or speech changes should see a movement disorder trained neurologist or other specialist. There are medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease and a number of surgical options available when medication cannot provide adequate control.

parkinsons 2There are many benefits to boating and swimming, according to Patrick LoSasso, the Parkinson’s Association’s strength and conditioning specialist. Sunlight provides vitamin D and helps improve the mental state, which counters the fatigue and depression commonly experienced by those with Parkinson’s disease. Being on the water with friends and family can greatly increase serotonin levels and help improve the quality of life. Swimming is also beneficial, notes LoSasso, because water is easier on the joints and helps with range of motion, reduction of joint inflammation, and muscle strength.

Safety is every boater’s concern, but if someone aboard has Parkinson’s, there are additional precautions to take. Ensure that your home marina and those you visit have easy accessibility, as getting in and out of low dinghies or climbing steep ramps may be too difficult. Bring all medications along in a watertight bag (tuck in extra in case of delays in returning to shore) and follow doctor’s orders precisely. Check weather conditions and wave heights thoroughly before heading out, as being on choppy waters is too challenging for someone who already grapples with balance issues. Boaters with Parkinson’s should wear shoes with extra support if necessary to avoid falling or slipping. It’s also a good safety measure to keep the deck dry at all times.

Boating with Parkinson’s should be approached slowly. If daily exercise on land is sometimes troublesome, consult a physical therapist or physician for exercises to build endurance and balance. Also ask for additional safety tips to practice aboard.

For more information on Parkinson’s disease, visit and

By Jennifer Pollock


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