Fight fire with fire, or so they say, and that’s the approach Jane Busch takes in her ongoing battle against Parkinson’s disease. To fight the effects of the condition that slowly robs sufferers of the ability to move, Busch moves — a lot.

Specifically, this retired dentist from Cross Plains uses Zumba, a form of Latin dance, to keep herself fit and active and to combat the deterioration of motor skills that comes with Parkinson’s.

What’s more, Busch, 57, teaches others with Parkinson’s to do the same in a regular Friday afternoon class she leads at Harbor Athletic Club in Middleton.

“It’s all about moving big,” Busch said, explaining that people with Parkinson’s disease, or PD, “tend to kind of curl in.”

“The purpose of most of the exercise program is to reach, to extend. … It’s good for them; it’s challenging.”

The class also is meant to help in a cognitive way, as well, Busch added. Parkinson’s is a progressive brain disorder that causes a loss of dopamine, the neuro-transmitter in charge of body movements. “It’s like the brain isn’t sending the signal down to the body to move,” Busch said.

So her Zumba class, where participants are asked to think about steps and dance moves, is “as much a brain exercise as a physical exercise,” Busch said.

There is much recent research to support the idea that regular physical activity can be of great benefit to those with Parkinson’s disease, said Dr. Teresa Mangin, a neurologist at Dean-St. Mary’s who specializes in treating Parkinson’s.

“There are literally hundreds of studies supporting this idea,” she said. “Anecdotally, I have no doubt that patients who exercise regularly do better and stay active longer.

“When it comes to PD, it really is a ‘use it or lose it’ type of phenomenon.”

One participant in Busch’s regular Friday class is Ed Garvey, the Madison attorney and political activist who is now editor and publisher of the progressive online opinion magazine Fightingbob.com. Garvey, who has Parkinson’s, began taking Busch’s class several weeks ago.

“While my wife will confirm I am a lousy dancer, the combination of Latin music, an excellent instructor and the wonderful attitude of the other participants gets me on the dance floor,” Garvey said. “I always feel better after Jane’s Zumba class.”

Recently, Garvey helped to co-chair a fundraising event with Busch to benefit the Wisconsin chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association. More than $6,000 was raised at the mid-June “Zumbathon,” with money targeted to expand Busch’s exercise offerings for those with PD.

Busch emphasizes the “use it or lose it” approach and said she has done so nearly from the beginning of her Parkinson’s diagnosis, which came in the summer of 2008.

With her background in medicine — she had a dentistry practice for 17 years in Cross Plains then worked for eight years as director of education at D&S Dental Laboratory in Waunakee — Busch was inclined to do extensive research on Parkinson’s once she was diagnosed. What she found was a growing feeling that patients should be as proactive as possible in fighting the disease’s four main symptoms: slowness of movement, muscle stiffness, balance problems and tremors.

Rather than simply prescribing medication and starting physical therapy after deterioration of motor skills, treatment of the disease should be more about “I’m going to maintain the motor I have,” Busch said. “It’s preventing loss or slowing loss (of movement), rather than addressing it at a later stage.”

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Mangin, the neurologist, said she encourages appropriate exercise for all of her patients.

“I really believe it is the single most important way that patients can exert control over their disease,” she said, noting that a good plan would include aerobic exercise, stretching, strength work and agility exercise such as dancing.

“You don’t have to do all four every day, of course. The more exercise patients can reasonably do, the better, but I also try to encourage people to start simple. … A few 5- to 10-minute brisk walks during the day are better than nothing.”

In addition to exercise, Busch does take prescribed medications for her Parkinson’s and focuses on good nutrition and “a positive mindset.” But it is the physical activity element she has really embraced.

Busch, who is married with two adult sons, teaches several Zumba dance and other exercise classes per week through Harbor, UW Health and the Cross Plains recreation department. Many times, she said, those in her regular classes don’t even know she has Parkinson’s.

“I’m actually less symptomatic than I was upon diagnosis,” she said.

Busch creates the choreography for all of the dance classes she teaches, whether for people with Parkinson’s or not. She works to make sure her PD Zumba Gold class has simpler movements than a regular Zumba class, while still making participants work hard.

“I do challenge them, but you can’t frustrate them, either,” she said, adding that dance is a fun way to get people moving. “Dance is just more freeing.”

Mangin said dance can be especially good for Parkinson’s patients because its benefits go beyond just physical.

“I think there is something really valuable about exercisig to music, which activates different parts of the brain than you would typically use just riding a stationary bike, for instance,” she said. “Not only that, but it adds the social element, which can be equally important.”

Busch, too, appreciates the social aspects of her Zumba classes for Parkinson’s. Participants find themselves bonding, she said, understanding the struggles everyone is facing.

“They love that it’s just for them,” she said. “If they tremor, that’s OK. They have privacy to be symptomatic and still dance. … They may say, ‘I’m a little off today,’ and I’ll know exactly what they mean. They can identify with me and I with them.”

A tremor or a stumble here and there “becomes part of the dance,” she added. “We can use inside humor.”

Mostly, Busch is glad to be able to help people with Parkinson’s disease stave off its effects as long as possible.

“If we can keep them more active, their quality of life is going to be so much better, and I guess I feel passionate about that,” she said. “If I can help this small niche, I’ve done something.”


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