Aspects: In Control - after 20 Years with Parkinson's; Conductive Education Is Not Only Designed for Children. Mrs Audrey James, a 74-Year-Old with Parkinson's Disease, Tells Health Correspondent Jenny Hudson How CE Has Enabled Her to 'Win the War' against the Condition

By Hudson, Jenny | The Birmingham Post (England), September 6, 2000 | Go to article overview

Aspects: In Control - after 20 Years with Parkinson's; Conductive Education Is Not Only Designed for Children. Mrs Audrey James, a 74-Year-Old with Parkinson's Disease, Tells Health Correspondent Jenny Hudson How CE Has Enabled Her to 'Win the War' against the Condition


Hudson, Jenny, The Birmingham Post (England)


Audrey James greets me in her colourful, carefully tended garden in Selly Park, Birmingham.

Her background in speech and drama is evident while she brightly articulates the 'inner strength' she has found in conductive education.

But when we sit down, Audrey apologises as involuntary muscular spasms leave her arms and legs shaking.

'Now this is when I have to remember what I have learnt from conductive education,' she tells me.

The 74-year-old presses her knees together, straightens her back into a perfectly upright position and breathes out. The spasms stop completely.

It's an incredibly powerful illustration of what conductive education (CE) is essentially about - enabling people to regain control of their lives.

'I became Audrey James who happens to have Parkinson's disease, rather than someone with Parkinson's disease called Audrey James,' she explains. 'It gave me a new zest for life and I felt absolutely elated.'

Audrey was in her early 50s when she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

She had been extremely fit and active, but suddenly found she had lost all her energy. 'It took me ages to do the most basic tasks. I felt as if I was caught up in a wall of cotton wool,' says Audrey.

'I went to the doctor and was ever so apologetic. I said - 'I'm so sorry to waste your time, I think I'm just unfit. But he told me I ought to see a neurosurgeon.

'After I had been examined, I heard a couple of doctors talking about a woman. One said he thought it could be a tumour on the brain, the other believed it may be Parkinson's disease.

'I thought, 'Poor lady - the prognosis does not sound good for her.' I had no idea they were talking about me.

'Then they asked me to write my name and the writing got smaller and smaller, which is a classic sign of Parkinson's disease.'

From the moment of diagnosis, Audrey says she was 'determined not to be an invalid.'

Four years later in 1987, she read about a method known as conductive education in a magazine for Parkinson's sufferers and their families.

With an open mind, she decided to go out to Hungary with her husband Ralph and try it for herself.

'I remember having to take off my shoes and lie down on a wooden plinth. Someone asked me if I wanted a pillow and I said I did - and had an image of this wonderful feather pillow.

'They came back with a pillow which had been cut out of a cardboard box. I thought I'd arrived in the Tower of London!

'But however strange it all seemed, I could tell there was a very clear sense of purpose and a strong philosophy in the place.'

The essence of conductive education is teaching people how to overcome their disabilities through a set of exercises which are known as tasks.

With the nimbleness of someone half her age, Audrey demonstrated the leg and arm extensions, which formed part of a daily 90 minute routine.

'One day they got the carers to do all the tasks too - and they were exhausted by the end of it all,' Audrey tells me.

Participants learn how to turn themselves over in bed using their arms, so they do not become stuck if they cannot move their legs.

They are taught how to fall safely - and crucially, how to pick themselves up again unaided.

There are even tasks designed to keep your face flexible. …

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