October Meeting Notes

Clinton Wutzke, PhD, was the guest speaker at our October 2 meeting. He is an assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science at George Mason University (GMU) and currently conducting several studies related to the walking and balancing skills of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Wutzke, who grew up and attended college in Alberta, Canada, developed an interest in movement disorders as a young boy, watching people in his life with movement problems. After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Lethbridge, he earned his Masters degree at the University of Nebraska and his PhD at the University of North Carolina.  He worked for several years at the Veterans Administration Health Center in Washington, D.C. before joining the faculty at GMU. His focus, throughout his career, has remained on movement disorders.

When Dr. Wutzke began working at GMU’s Rehabilitation Science Laboratory, he decided that Parkinson’s disease would be his area of focus, seeking to find ways to specifically help people with Parkinson’s with their gait and balance skills. GMU, as well as the Northern Virginia community, have been a great support to the lab’s work. Further funding through grants is also being pursued.

The Rehabilitation Science Laboratory, housed in the new Peterson Family Health Science Hall at GMU’s Fairfax campus, currently has several research studies of interest to people with Parkinson’s. As a volunteer, your first visit would include a careful assessment of your needs and ability levels so that they can recommend a suitable study. Your safety and convenience are given top priority. A doctoral student will meet you upon arrival, either at the handicapped parking area in front of the building or at the adjacent parking garage. Your parking is paid for and you are personally escorted to the lab. While studies are conducted by doctoral students, a few undergraduate students assist with record keeping. Members of the Women with Parkinson’s group who have participated in these studies have had positive experiences.

Volunteers are needed for the current multimodal exercise study. This is an interventional exercise program designed to improve gait and balance for people with Parkinson’s. Participants come to the lab twice a week for 12 weeks. Working one-on-one with a grad student, participants are guided through various walking and balancing exercises while wearing monitoring devices to measure their progress. Each exercise session is about one hour. Researchers are looking for patterns that form and pieces that can be put together so they can develop new ways to help people with Parkinson’s.

If you are interested in volunteering but can’t make a 12-week commitment, there are several studies requiring just a one-day, two-hour commitment. These studies also focus on walking and balancing skills.

For further information or to get started, e-mail Andrew Pechstein at apechste@masonlive.gmu.edu — or call the lab at 703-993-5041. Note that although initial assessments and the exercise study program won’t be begin until after January 1, they are looking to enroll and schedule new participants before the end of the year. The lab’s website can be found here.

Dr. Wutzke appreciates the efforts of the local Parkinson’s groups in spreading the word about the lab’s work. Through the efforts of volunteers and researchers, he hopes to join similar studies being conducted by schools in California and Arizona in bringing about better ways to help people with Parkinson’s disease.

[Special thanks to SS for taking notes in my absence and providing a summary of the meeting for our website.]


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