3 Shifts and a Walk: Designing a Workaround for Parkinson’s Disease

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by Dr. C |

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I used to develop workaround rehab models to help folks recover from traumatic brain injury. They were needed to circumvent the damaged areas of the brain and to make new neural pathways. Currently, I’m applying that same approach to my own rehabilitation with Parkinson’s disease.

My model places emphasis on living with Parkinson’s brain disease. It’s my contention that Parkinson’s is first a brain disease, and secondly a motor disorder. The illness isn’t going away, although I think I’ve slowed its progression with the workaround.

A workaround model for brain rehab must be useful for the patient. That means it should help to alleviate symptoms and be easily implemented by the patient. Since I’m the patient, my workaround model must be based on a scientific explanation that has reasonable supporting evidence. My brain rehab model must pull from my strengths, not feed into the weaknesses caused by the disease, and fit with my Parkinson’s self-management toolkit.

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The first step in constructing a workaround model is to define its limits. It cannot fix all of the problems that Parkinson’s causes. In my workaround model, I focus on three shifts of mental state that involve the brain “asking” the body to sleep or ignore mental activity, such as when we sleep, daydream, or simply walk down the street. In my case, these three shifts malfunction with a high degree of regularity.

The first shift involves motor cognition while dreaming. The acting out of dreams during sleep is disruptive to both Mrs. Dr. C and me. This shift may be the most difficult one to discern, as I’m not aware of my thrashing in bed while I’m sleeping. It’s the shift to sleep and to muscle paralysis — telling my body to disconnect from my mind — that’s malfunctioning.

The second is daydreaming while on autopilot, or thinking about something other than what movement I need to do at that moment. If I’m walking up the two steps to the deck and momentarily glance at an overgrown hedge, the thought pops into my head that I should clip the new leaf growth. That creates the potential for stumbling over my own feet because of the malfunction with the shift.

During the shift, my brain misfires due to the malfunction and loses contact with my feet. Because I’m paying attention to the hedge and not my feet, now I’m on autopilot. The shift that disconnects the body from the mind when engaging autopilot is broken. These faulty brain signals cause me to stumble while climbing the two steps. The same malfunction happens if I’m not mindful when transitioning from sitting to walking.

The third shift is closely linked to daydreaming. If I’m sitting in a chair and my brain drifts off to thinking about clipping that hedge, I don’t want my hands moving about making hedge-clipping gestures. My brain tells my body to disconnect while daydreaming. While resting in a chair, if I reach to scratch my nose and then immediately switch to daydreaming, my brain sends a broken surge, resulting in a malfunctioning autopilot that leaves my hand stuck in midair.

These three brain-shift malfunctions with Parkinson’s disease involve abnormal brain wave activity. The shift involving the mind-body disconnect happens during sleep, walking, and daydreaming. These malfunctions exacerbate Parkinson’s symptoms.

We experience the shift to the sleep state every day. Many times throughout the day, we switch to autopilot or we daydream. With every shift, I experience a chaotic surge of brain activity. By the end of the day, I’m drenched by the cumulative drip, drip, drip from each malfunctioning brain-shift surge.

The solution for me is not to switch to autopilot or daydreaming and to manage sleep differently. So far, I’ve found it impossible to stop shifting all the time. When a shift, and the accompanying brain surge, occur, I must take steps to avoid staying in the shift surge. This is the workaround: being mindful enough to avoid most shifting and aware enough to calmly return to baseline when a shift surge happens.

It’s a practice of constant, focused attention on my thinking and getting my body to act differently than what the brain is suggesting. The key to the workaround is the mental focus on not using this broken circuitry. It’s taking a moment to walk around the malfunction and find another path.

This is where “TBM” — which stands for threshold management, brain rewiring, and mindful movement (especially walking) — comes into use. I can use TBM to work around these three malfunctioning shift surges. It’s a nondirect route, because I can’t stop the malfunction of automatic brain-state shifting processes. But I can act to reduce their frequency and work around them when they malfunction and reduce the impact of these three shift-surge malfunctions in my life.

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


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