Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Ancient Chinese treatment blends with modern day care
Flying cranes, walking bears and waterfalls aren’t part of some new-age design at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, but signal a shift in the type of treatment some veterans can receive.
Those positions and movements are all a part of the Tai Chi Fundamentals program for Parkinson’s patients.
This 12-week program recently began at the medical center. Each Tuesday from noon until 1 p.m. in Recreation Hall, physical therapist, Kim DeChant, leads a group of veterans through an hour of exercises and meditation from the fundamentals of tai chi movements.
DeChant and a few other VA staff first became certified through a Polytrauma Department adaptive sports grant.
This ancient Chinese exercise mixes martial arts with meditation to promote a healthy qi -- one’s energy flow -- and general balance. Studies show Tai Chi is a promising part of treatment for those with Parkinson’s.
“Tai Chi has shown that it improves balance, lower stress, lower blood pressure and increase body awareness,” DeChant said. “That’s extremely helpful to these guys because it helps them control their body and feel more comfortable within themselves.”
Veteran Michael Van Roc is a big fan on the class.
“It’s really beneficial because there’s an emphasis on balance and core building,” Van Roc said.
Van Roc’s children have also taken Tai Chi. He has seen the benefits before he was able to learn them first hand. This made him a big supporter of bringing Tai Chi to the VA. But, as with all exercise groups, work and dedication are involved, and maybe a little sweat.
DeChant has the group practicing squats. She’s patient and encouraging but she doesn’t let them off too easy. As she walks around checking on each individual, she pushes them to go a little farther than they think they can and helps them make sure they’re performing each move correctly.
Veteran Richard Maron holds on to the back of his chair as he squats lower and lower each time.
“Where do you feel that?” DeChant asked him.
“All over!” Maron groaned while laughing. On his way back up he paused a minute to catch his breath.
“I haven’t gone that low it awhile,” Maron said.
For the veterans, this free group has brought exercise and fun wrapped up in a support group.
“We do use some Tai Chi moves during one-on-one physical therapy sessions but the effect of group over self is amazing.” DeChant said. “I can barely get these guys to stay standing during a PT session for 20 minutes, but here they’ve been standing and doing this for a whole hour. Their balance, flexibility, confidence and endurance have all improved already.”
The Polytrauma Support Clinic team is happy with the results they’ve seen so far and they’re furthering their clash of eastern and western medicine practices with a new Integrative Tai Chi Program starting this month. Occupational Therapist, Mary Van Derven, says the new program will be open to any veteran.
“The goal is to provide veterans with self-management skills for their health,” Van Derven said.
The new program will be adaptable to the level and abilities of those who participate and for the patients who want to advance, there is a chance to train to become a Tai Chi peer trainer.
For more information about the Tai Chi Fundamentals program, call Kim DeChant at 414-384-2000 ext. 47174.
For more information about the Integrative Tai Chi Program, call Mary Van Derven at 414-384-2000 ext. 41140.