Hamilton gym designed for those with neurological disorders to stay active

NeuroFit Gym offers classes for people suffering from Parkinson’s, strokes, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological disorders in Hamilton. CONTRIBUTED

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NeuroFit Gym offers classes for people suffering from Parkinson’s, strokes, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological disorders in Hamilton. CONTRIBUTED

Danny Carpenter was a co-partner in a concrete foundation company in his late 50s when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

The married father of three and grandfather of four had been feeling lethargic and stiff. He had difficulty moving around and experienced tremors in his limbs.

At the time, Carpenter imagined the worst.

“I thought I had (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) at first, that I was going to die,” he said.

For the next few years, ailing from both Parkinson’s and back problems, Carpenter wasn’t in a mentally good place. He struggled with simple tasks like dressing or getting out of a chair, and he couldn’t exercise. It was while he was seeking therapy for his back that he met Colleen Schuster, who with Amy Bertram co-owns the Hamilton’s NeuroFit Gym, a facility that offers classes for people suffering from Parkinson’s, strokes, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological disorders.

Bertram and Schuster, who both hold advanced degrees in physical therapy, had a strong connection, as Schuster treated Bertram’s father for multiple system atrophy. Bertram saw that those she was helping with physical therapy needed an outlet to be active.

“Insurance companies don’t pay out long enough for people to get independent,” she said. “And they don’t pay for classes for patients who have a lifelong need for them. So, people end up taking random classes after they finish outpatient. I wanted to create a place where they wouldn’t lose the ground they’d gained with people trained in (neurological conditions).”

Main class offerings at the gym, located at 4155 Tonya Trail, are Rock Steady Boxing and Delay the Disease. Rock Steady Boxing is a non-contact boxing fitness program that can be done from a seated position or a wheelchair if needed.

Delay the Disease is a series of exercises that combines physical exercise with balance and coordination exercises that improves people’s abilities in everything from dressing and operating in public to handwriting skills.

“(Delay the Disease) is multi-tasking and people love it because it’s always different,” Bertram said. “They’re always challenged. It’s about putting the brain to work and getting that connection to the body back.”

Individual classes are $15 but people can get packages of up to 30 classes for $300 ($10 per class). Once the classes are purchased, they remain in a “bank,” until clients can use them.

“Grants keep us in business,” Bertram said. “The classes cost less than co-payments. We don’t take salaries. We’re not in it to make a lot of money.”

The classes also keep the participants in a group with others who can support them.

“Emotional sadness is a big part of (neurological disorders),” Bertram said. “We encourage them, figure out a way to modify their programs to help them reach their goals. It helps we know what we’re talking about. The classes help them be social, so they see they’re not the only ones going through this. If they’re having a bad day, they often feel better if they can leave that day being able to do something they couldn’t do that morning.”

Schuster added: “They help each other. If someone is having a bad day, someone will crack a joke. Exercise, getting the heart rate up, will delay the disease by improving balance and fine motor skills. It’s not going to stop the disease’s progression, but it will give them a better quality of life.”

Since joining the NeuroFit Gym, Carpenter said he can not only dress himself and get out of a chair, he can walk a few miles and even jog for a bit.

“Colleen said I could live with this and I’m truly thankful for Amy’s care and dedication,” he said. “I can live a productive life. I hope to travel to Europe and watch my grandbabies grow up and play ball. As long as I work hard, I can do what everyone else can do. That’s the mentality I want to keep.”

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