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Set dancing could have positive benefits for Parkinson's patients. Photograph by John Kelly.

Feakle conference nominated for national award

THE committee of the Parkinson’s Health Conference in Feakle are preparing for ‘the Oscars of Irish Medicine’, as their event has been shortlisted for a prestigious national award at the Irish Medical Times Irish Healthcare Awards.

The conference, which highlighted a research study by an Italian neurologist into the benefits of set dancing for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) patients, has been shortlisted in the Best Patient Education Project, Non-Pharma category.

Therapeutic Effects of Irish Set Dancing on Parkinson’s Disease – Feakle Health Conference, is one of three shortlisted in the category and was chosen out of nine entries. There were 120 overall entries to the awards in total.

Described by its organisers as “this year’s ‘Oscars’ of Irish medicine”, the winners will be revealed at a gala event run by the Irish Medical Times in the Shelbourne Hotel on Thursday, November 7. The awards are now in their 12th year and recognise originality, excellence and innovation in such areas as hospital care, patient education, general practice, pharmaceutical innovation, public health, IT and education.

Conference manager, Breda Collins explains how the nomination came about and the progress that has been made since the event was held over the summer.

“The Parkinson’s Association of Ireland asked us to put the conference forward as a way of highlighting Parkinson’s Disease and promoting awareness and they asked us would we enter. It is a big application process and involved a lot of support material. We may not go any further but the fact that we were shortlisted is huge,” she said.

The timing is both convenient and inconvenient for the conference committee as November 8 and 9 will be a big weekend for them as they prepare to hold their first intensive set-dancing training weekend for set-dancing teachers and therapists.

“In one sense it is difficult timing for us but in another sense it is good timing because as a follow-up from the conference, we are running a training course, on November 8 and 9, the days after the event. It will be rough for us but Dr Daniele Volpe, who is the consultant neurologist in Italy, is here for the training course so he can come to the gala event,” Ms Collins explains.

Such was the response to the conference and research undertaken by Dr Volpe, in conjunction with research partners in UL and the Mater, the committee were asked to look into preparing teaching guidelines for PD patients.

“We were contacted by the Parkinson’s Association, Move for Parkinsons and a lot of groups of people with Parkinson’s asking us did we have guidelines for set-dancing teaching. They wanted to start running classes and they wanted a bit more information on it than what was at the conference. I sent that back to Dr Volpe and he thought it was a great idea to have a standard of practice,” she said.

Together with the dancing teachers from the Black Sheep set-dancing group in Italy, he set about putting them together. Out of this came a two-day intensive course, which will be run in Feakle next month. The intensive course is just for set-dancing teachers or therapists, be they occupational therapists or physiotherapists, and aims to go into more detail about the theories behind the study. Participants will also complete a full-day workshop, where they will learn how to modify their teaching style for someone with Parkinson’s and the key things to look for to reduce the risk of injury to the patient.

“We really felt that it was necessary to follow up from the conference because the research got out there and people got the theory but people didn’t know how to put it into practice and they wanted to know where could they go and how could they do it right. We felt it natural to do the course,” she said.

It is an intensive course with limited space and the committee are trying to keep it small because it is workshop based. Those who participate will get a certificate of attendance so they can show they have done this course when they go to teach it.

The course will be run at Feakle Community Hall at Dr Volpe’s request. Ms Collins explained it was the Italian neurologist’s preference for the conference and workshops to be held in Feakle, as this is where it all began.

“Although there is a lot of research in UL and the Mater, he feels because it started in Feakle, he wants to keep it in Feakle. It makes sense as the feedback we got from the conference was really amazing. The people who came with Parkinson’s Disease were saying the community spirit and the positive atmosphere really made a difference to them. If it was in a hotel, it wouldn’t have meant the same and that was really good to hear. I think the community in Feakle and the volunteers who helped out also changed their outlook and they got a lot out of being involved in it,” she said.

Ms Collins said she expects there will be more intensive courses like this in the future, as the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland wants to roll out classes to all of its branches across the country.

Dr Volpe and the group of Italian set dancers who conducted demonstrations during the Feakle Health Conference return for the course and will be joined by Professor Timothy Lynch, Dr Amanda Clifford, Joanne Shanahan and Orla Ní Bhriain.

There is also a public element to the course as a céilí, which is open to all, will be held on Friday, November 8 at Pepper’s Marquee from 9pm. Tickets for the intensive course are available through Glór box office but are limited to set-dancing teachers and therapists.

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