Picture two hands praying. Odds are you imagined them palm to palm with fingers either interlaced or pointing upward. If you sit with 85-year-old R. M. Everett for a while, you’ll notice that when he talks, his hands usually end up in one of these two poses. He seems to do it wholly without intent and makes no mention of why, but – as they say – sometimes actions speak louder than words.
You could certainly argue the pose appears naturally from years of practice. In addition to being a retired Air Force captain and a former Alcoa Aluminum employee, Everett also is a retired minister who spent the last 15 years with Niles Ferry Baptist Church in Greenback. He’s retired not because he wants to be, but because about a year ago he realized he was having trouble remembering his sermons.
He recalls a specific time where he was a guest speaker at another church. “I did just fine on my introduction, but I got to where I couldn’t remember what to say next,” Everett said. “I apologized to the group for my stammering, stuttering and drooling. It was embarrassing. I had had some experiences before then where I should’ve noticed it, but they didn’t last long enough for me to do anything about it. I could just bluff my way through,” he said.
You might’ve noticed Everett called his condition “it” just then. That’s because he doesn’t like to use the term “Parkinson’s disease.” In fact, when he does refer to “it” by name, he tends to omit the “disease” part.
“I didn’t know I was as bad off as I was,” Everett said. “I drooled and had lots of shaking. I could tell myself to stop shaking and I would stop, but just for a second or two. I shuffled and dragged my feet. I didn’t realize I was doing all this. I never dreamed of Parkinson’s,” he explained.
After being diagnosed with the disease last fall, Everett took part in a new program offered by Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation called “Big and Loud,” an exercise-based treatment program that focuses on large-amplitude movements to enable better neuroplasticity through simple repetition. The “big” portion refers specifically to movement, while the “loud” element helps with speech issues.
“We know that exercise not only benefits our cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, but also has strong effects on our nervous system,” said Blount Memorial physical therapist Carolyn McAmis. “Not too long ago, therapy was only prescribed in the later stages of Parkinson’s to help people deal with the deficits of falling, lack of muscle strength and lack of movement. With ‘Big and Loud,’ it’s been proven that early intervention with exercises that stress big movements, repetition and intensity can help a person manage his or her symptoms and improve function,” she added.
Just as Everett avoids the term “disease,” McAmis says she doesn’t like the word “patient.” “These are people. People who need our help,” she said. “There are seven exercises – two sitting and five standing. They all work with posture, balance, movement, weight shifting, trunk rotation and doing two or three things at the same time. They’re all very simple, but can be very hard for someone who has Parkinson’s. The program protocol is four times a week for four weeks, the idea being repetition. What you’re doing is bringing in the neuroplasticity of the brain. Mr. Everett didn’t realize that he was moving small, but as he moves big in the exercises, it can correlate to his normal daily activities,” she explained. “Some people choose ‘Loud’ and not ‘Big’ because they feel like they’re okay with their movements, but not with their voices,” she added.
While he’s not doing the “Loud” part of the program yet, Everett has incorporated “Big” into his daily routine, and credits the combination of exercise and his medications for the improvements he’s making. “I’ve come a long way in 11 months,” he said. “It has really helped me and opened my eyes to what can be done. The exercises and routines that the staff has put together have really kept my joints moving,” he said. “Sometimes, I do it wrong, but I can catch myself,” he added with a laugh.
“He’s just doing marvelous, I think,” said Delight Everett, Everett’s wife. “I noticed he had changed long before he realized it. I kept thinking things would get better, but they did catch it early enough that they could do something for him. It’s just a miracle,” she added.
“Last week, I woke up at about one o’clock in the morning, and I felt normal for the first time in a long, long time. But it didn’t last,” Everett said. “I get up in the morning and sometimes my joints are stiff. I still have the dizziness when I first get up in the morning, too,” he said. “But I take a minute when I stand up and I thank the Lord for this good day,” he added, leading one to suspect maybe his recurring hand poses have a little intent behind them after all.
Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation’s “Big and Loud” program is offered at the Springbrook location. Since it began in fall 2014, the program has helped more than 50 people better cope with the speech and movement issues that come with Parkinson’s disease. For more information about “Big and Loud,” contact Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation at Springbrook at 865-980-7140.