PD Warrior founder has big impact
Sydney physiotherapist Melissa McConaghy has received a Hesta Impact Award for the PD Warrior program she developed for people living with Parkinson’s disease. A conversation with her about the program.
PD Warrior is an exercise and education program developed by Sydney-based Specialist Neurological Physiotherapist (as awarded by the Australian College of Physiotherapists in 2010) Melissa McConaghy FACP for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) as well as physiotherapists and other health professionals who work with them.
In February, Melissa was presented with a Hesta Impact Award for her work in developing the PD Warrior program, which has been delivered to around 30,000 people worldwide since its launch in 2015.
The award, worth $10,000, will go towards the development of a new PD Warrior app.
PD Warrior provides people with PD with a comprehensive program tailored to their symptoms, using the principles of neuroplasticity to improve both movement and cognition and providing education and support.
‘With Parkinson’s, part of the problem is that it has been a very gloom-and-doom diagnosis.
'Here’s your medication; it’s all downhill from here.
'But the landscape is changing—instead of just passively taking medication, people can become much more active in managing it.
'Exercise is an important vehicle for building their confidence and changing their perspective on the diagnosis,’ says Melissa.
According to Melissa, current estimates indicate that more than 10 million people worldwide live with PD, including nearly 200,000 Australians.
It’s a complex, degenerative disorder, with multiple genetic and environmental factors involved.
‘Going into a crowd of people with PD five or 10 years ago was pretty gloomy.
'Now it’s so exciting.
'They’re raising funds and following the research.
'The research itself has exploded exponentially around exercise and its significance.
'It’s a very hungry population, not necessarily looking for alternatives to medication but for what they can do to live as well as possible.’
The PD Warrior program has been delivered to around 30,000 people worldwide.
The program has been designed for use through group classes and individual coaching, available both online and in specialised licensed facilities.
In addition, participants have access to a supportive community of other people with PD and a library of educational material, coaching tips and exercise ideas.
Each year, the program organises a virtual conference (INSIGHT into PD) for up to 10,000 people, to showcase the latest research and advances in treating PD.
The 30,000 current users of PD Warrior are spread across 22 countries, with around 10,000 participants in Australia alone.
Melissa says that approximately 5000 health professionals, mostly physiotherapists but also exercise physiologists, have been trained to deliver the program, both in Australia and overseas, and across four different languages.
Almost 50 Australian physiotherapy facilities deliver it.
‘Prior to COVID-19 we were running about 40 courses a year in six different countries, but the face-to-face training was forced into life support,’ Melissa says.
As the pandemic subsides around the world, the company has started to rebuild this.
The new app, which will be launched later this year, is designed to become the home of exercise for people with PD, says Melissa.
‘It will be a one-stop shop with all of the exercises they could possibly want, along with guided instructions.
'It will also provide access to a peer support community—as much as we like to think we can encourage patients, it’s really that peer support that helps them the most.
'They’re asking questions about it that we can’t answer in the same way as another person with lived experience can.
'Users will be able to access our annual conference through the app as well,’ Melissa says.
She says that while the app will be free to download, users will have the option to upgrade their app to include features such as an exercise program builder, where they can select exercises according to their needs and interests and create their own workout program and log.
Online coaching will also be available as an upgrade.
‘We want PD Warrior to be the gold standard training program for anybody working with people who have PD and for anyone who has PD themselves.
'From what I can see in my market research, it’s currently the most comprehensive program worldwide,’ Melissa says.
Main image: Melissa McConaghy with her Hesta Impact Award.
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