Neurophysios win national award for pioneering virtual exercise classes

 Neuro Heroes have been recognised for its engaging exercise provision and building of a UK-wide community by winning the person-centred care category in the UK Parkinson’s Excellence Network Awards.

Neuro Heroes
Laura Douglas and Anna Kharin of Neuro Heroes

Founded a year ago by physiotherapists Laura Douglas and Anna Kharin Neuro Heroes organised virtual exercise sessions during the pandemic for people living with Parkinson’s.

‘We were awarded this accolade for the involvement and engagement of our service users in shaping what we offer,’ said Ms Douglas. 

‘We're proud of how far we have come in a year and are buzzing about winning the award.

‘We're determined to spread the word about the importance of exercise in neurological conditions, however people can manage that, but also show that exercising from home without the need for 1:1 private physio, can be clinically effective and improve function, symptoms and quality of life.’

She explained there are 145,000 people living with Parkinson's in the UK, and young onset PD and Parkinson's in general is on the rise. ‘It's therefore vital that we spread the word about the hugely positive impact of exercise on Parkinson's symptoms and disease progression to the wider community. Two people are diagnosed every hour and we need them to get moving!'

Neuro Heroes was created to give people with neurological conditions an opportunity to get active at home under the guidance of a specialist neurological physiotherapist and motivate people with Parkinson’s in a supportive group setting. They aim to empower people with the condition to meet physical activity guidelines, which suggest that 2.5 hours of exercise a week can be as important as medication in helping to control and manage Parkinson’s symptoms.

Neuro Heroes class
Participants in a Neuro Heroes online activity

Using an evidence-based approach, Neuro Heroes created online group exercise sessions, including exercises that ease common difficulties in Parkinson’s and try to slow symptom progression. Live sessions allowed Douglas and Kharin to respond to an individual's needs and adapt exercises in real time to meet different levels. 

They piloted workout sessions in October 2020, with the input of six people living with Parkinson’s and the routine included condition-specific exercise alongside strengthening and fitness. 

The judges described the project as ‘a comprehensive and far reaching project which has been very well thought out, had significant academic input and wide-ranging involvement from stakeholders. It was truly patient-centred. It reflected a translation of evidence into practice.’

‘We knew people with Parkinson’s who wanted to be active at the intensity research recommends, but didn’t know how,’ said Ms Kharin. ‘Playfulness is a huge part of the Neuro Heroes’ ethos, so our fitness section always has a theme - with requests from Heroes as wide-ranging as kung-fu and carnival.’

Neuro Heroes have four Parkinson’s exercise sessions a week and a community of ‘Heroes’ whose motivation and weekly goals have shaped its service. People have increased their one minute ‘sit -to-stand’ scores by an average of 15 repetitions, and have consistently reduced the number of steps needed to turn, improved functional balance and reduced falls risk. They have also shared their approach and reflections with other specialist teams so the benefits of the project can spread. 

Other winners

Teams from Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust won two prizes for outstanding excellence in the UK Parkinson’s Excellence Network Awards.

They included neurophysiotherapists Jane Curran and Martin Underwood and therapy assistant Nigel Goldthorpe also works with the team known as the hub. It pioneers a multi-disciplinary approach, with health specialists working with social care staff as well as private and voluntary organisations to support people with Parkinson’s.

The team assesses general health, nutrition, swallowing, speech issues, oral health, sleep, impulsive compulsive disorder, continence and bowel function and direct people to other services provided by charities and social care.

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