Parkinson’s changed my life; an unexpected journey in caregiving

Heidi Weinberg started her caregiving career in a rather untraditional and unexpected way.

As a professional in public administration and non-profit work, she never expected to work with seniors until she switched careers to personal training a little over six years ago.

Weinberg is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, she moved to Minneapolis with her husband in 1991. When Weinberg started working at the Ridgedale YMCA in Minnetonka, she realized that many of her clients were seniors and several were adults living with Parkinson’s disease.

Heidi Weinberg

Parkinson’s is a central nervous system disorder that causes damage to the nerve cells in the brain, affecting one million people in the United States. Parkinson’s is evident in a person’s tremors, slow movement, stiffness and loss of balance, and Minnesota has the third-highest rate in the country.

“People would start telling me how their mom, brother and dad had Parkinson’s,” Weinberg said. “And I started to do research on how I could help.”

Weinberg soon discovered that certifications were available for personal trainers who wanted to work with seniors and Parkinson’s patients. She went to Columbus, Ohio, her home state, to attend OhioHealth’s Delay the Disease certification course, an evidence-based program for implementing Parkinson’s-specific exercise plans.

Weinberg is the only certified Delay the Disease instructor in Minneapolis and owns her own fitness business, Live2Thrive. Her goal is to bring the Delay the Disease certification to Minnesota, so Parkinson’s patients can live a more active and healthy life.

Today, about 80 percent of Weinberg’s clients have Parkinson’s disease, many of them seniors. Given the progressive nature of the affliction, Weinberg emphasizes how critical exercise is for those trying to manage the difficult symptoms.

“If you come in and work with someone who knows what they’re doing, you can improve in the right ways,” she said.

One of her clients, Bob Zimmerman, is a 77-year-old Minnesotan who started working with Weinberg three years ago when she was still a personal trainer at the YMCA. Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago and attributes much of his mobility and health to his training with Weinberg.

“She keeps my muscles moving. It keeps me alive and able to be myself,” Bob said. “A lot of people would find it beneficial – not just Parkinson’s [patients] but aging seniors in general.”

However, Weinberg says that sometimes people struggle to understand the long-term importance of proper health and exercise as they age.

“One of the most challenging things is getting the people to see how much this is going to help them,” she said. “See your health as an investment, not an expense. Don’t you want to enjoy your later years and be more independent?”

Weinberg’s passion for helping seniors with Parkinson’s comes from the ambition and determination seniors display when they are facing new challenges.

“They are willing to try anything and put their whole heart and soul into it,” Weinberg said. “It’s inspiring to see people who have issues not let them take over their lives. They enjoy life in spite of it.”

Live2Thrive is a Wellness Partner with the Parkinson’s Foundation Minnesota and has received a grant to help offset the initial cost of personal training sessions. She also offers occasional free Delay the Disease classes, so people can learn more about the benefits of the program.

Aditionally, she has received her certification as a Functional Aging Specialist and has attended Parkinson’s trainings through organizations like GZ Sobol’s Parkinson’s Network, Struther’s Parkinson’s Center and HealthPartners Neuroscience Center.

“These certifications trained me on core stability, power, balance and function,” said Weinberg. “Everything you need to work on to stay independent as you age. It’s never too late to work on those things.”

Her advice to all seniors is to stay social, stay active and be proactive about your health.

“Join a community center, join a class and make sure you’re staying social,” Weinberg said. “Loneliness is bigger than we think it is, so make an effort to remain social. It’s going to make a huge different physically and socially.”

Weinberg hopes that seniors will strive to remain as independent as possible by researching the options and resources available to them in their communities.

“Start with some education on how to stay independent,” Weinberg said. “Find resources on social activities in your area. If your goal is to age in place, you’ll need the right resources in order to to so.”

And don’t forget, exercise is one of the most essential parts of active aging and living a healthy and independent life.

“Exercise reduces your chances of chronic disease and is the first line of defense for Parkinson’s and any older adult,” Weinberg said. “Don’t let life happen to you. Take back control.”

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