Written by Courtney Williamson, PhD
Pleading For Better Posture
“Stand up straight!” our mothers told us, and as children we were more preoccupied with playing and running around than we were with our posture. I remember mine asking me to stand up straight as a child; however, I found that the roles reversed as Mom developed Parkinson’s and her symptoms further developed.
My mom, Antoinette P. Williamson, lived with Parkinson’s for 25 years before passing away two years ago. My family and I were deeply familiar with the many symptoms that people living with Parkinson’s face, yet the one symptom that seemed to bother us the most was her poor posture. I remember being so frustrated with her for stooping over while sitting in her chair and while walking. I thought that if she just applied more will power, she would be able to stand up straight and tall like she did during my youth.
It’s Not Your Fault, Blame It on Parkinson’s!
Desperate for a posture solution, I called Parkinson’s experts to inquire about products to help my mom stand up straight. Turns out that my Mom’s compromised posture wasn’t her fault: I was shocked to find out that poor posture is a cardinal symptom of Parkinson’s and that the symptom can lead to falls, poor digestion and decreased respiratory functions. I learned that there were no solutions on the market to improve posture for people living with Parkinson’s.
Don’t Be Discouraged, There Are Options
I wasn’t satisfied with the lack of solutions on the market, and I set out to create an apparatus for Mom while I was studying for a doctoral degree from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. I enlisted the help of some senior engineering students who were eager to assist me in creating a one-of-a-kind product. One year and several prototypes later, I found myself with a back brace prototype, developed specifically for people living with Parkinson’s, and an opportunity to impact the lives of the 10 million-strong worldwide Parkinson’s community.
My company is AbiliLife, and the name of the back brace (covered by Medicare) is the Calibrace+. The brace’s unique patent pending technology works by pulling the shoulders up and back and providing support across the entire torso.
In addition to using the Calibrace+, there are techniques that you can use every day to improve your posture:
- Move your muscles. Moving your muscles and engaging your core on a regular basis will do wonders for improving posture. Keeping up with your exercise can be a challenge. Luckily, there are numerous exercise programs specifically designed for the Parkinson’s community such as Dance for PD, Rock Steady Boxing, the LSVT® BIG program, PWR!Moves and many others. The Davis Phinney Foundation also has an excellent, free video that shows you how to exercise for Parkinson’s at home, in your community or in a gym.
- Recognize when you stoop. The proprioceptive system in our brains helps us to understand whether we are standing up straight, or if we are leaning down or to the side. Parkinson’s adversely impacts the proprioceptive system, which means that you might not be aware that you are stooping. Ask friends, family members or care partners to tell you when you stoop so that you can begin to understand the pattern and restore yourself to an upright position.
Courtney Williamson is the founder and CEO of AbiliLife, a company dedicated to designing and developing products to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Courtney has 25 years of experience as a Parkinson's patient caregiver. Her training as a PhD candidate in organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University equipped her to build and lead an impactful enterprise.