An interview with Valerie Johnson Vestibular and PD Rehab Specialist from Balance Therapy LLC on October 4, 2023 by George Ackerman, Ph.D, J.D.
Please tell me a little about your background.
My love for movement started with dance. I was too injured to keep dancing after college, so I decided to go to Physical Therapy (PT) school and put myself, and the other dancers, back together again. We had a guest lecture about Parkinson’s (PD) therapy, and I was hooked. The therapy for PD is very rewarding and it suits my energetic personality.
Can you tell me more about your organization or advocacy?
I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since I started my own practice devoted to PD called Balance Therapy here in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition to one-on-one PT, I offer in-person and online PD-specific fitness, movement, and dance classes. I also founded a non-profit called The Parkinson’s Mind Body Institute and have received grants from the Parkinson’s Foundation to fund specialized physical therapy for newly diagnosed people with PD. I also have the honor of serving as president for a regional board of directors for the Parkinson’s Foundation, which has helped me cast a larger net with my advocacy.
What is your passion and how did you get involved in Parkinson’s awareness and hope for a cure?
My passion is seeing people with Parkinson’s learn how to move again and watching their reactions when they do something they didn’t know they could do.
It’s very exciting to be a physical therapist in the PD world right now thanks to all the evidence that has come out about the benefits of PT and exercise such as symptom reduction. Exercise is also the only thing we know of so far that slows down the progression of the disease. This, combined with my personality and dance background made it abundantly obvious to me that is what I was meant to do.
What type of goals do individuals with Parkinson’s have when seeing your advocacy?
As you know, everyone with PD is different. Sometimes their goals are very specific like walking their daughter down the aisle at her wedding or getting on the floor to play with their grandchildren. Others want to generally reduce their symptoms and stay ahead of their PD so they can enjoy a better life.
What type of training and how long are the programs?
By design, the therapeutic exercise for PD actually changes the way the brain works and makes movement easier. It’s more than improving strength, range of motion, and confidence. PD-specific exercise is a strategic way to get the brain’s attention and change it on a physiological level, and this can be achieved at any age.
PD-specific exercises target three main skills that deteriorate in people with PD including upright posture, spine flexibility, weight shifting, and getting from here to there more efficiently. By simultaneously generating big and fast movements, people with PD challenge their symptoms and maintain movement skills that would otherwise deteriorate. Through skills training, people with PD can relearn what normal movement feels like and relearn how to move in all aspects of daily life.
What would you like to see as a future goal for your advocacy?
I’d like to find an effective way to engage young onset people with PD (YOPD). This is a challenging population to reach because they are already strung too thin, not “drinking the exercise cool-aid”, still grabbling with the new diagnosis, or already doing their own thing in terms of exercise. I see myself advocating more for YOPD in the future. I want to help them start doing PD-specific exercises sooner than later.
What events do you participate in?
I’m very involved with the Parkinson’s Foundation. They host many fun events including Moving Day. I get a kick out of leading the warmup and teaching movement break out groups there.
How can someone get in touch? What is your website?
Feel free to call or email me anytime!
- (214) 356-8123
How can others also become advocates for awareness?
I would start by getting in touch with the Parkinson’s Foundation. They are always looking for local volunteers and advocates for education, outreach, and support.
How would someone learn more about exercises for PD?
If you want to learn more about exercise for PD, I wrote an e-book that you can download for free on my website called The Essential Exercise Guide for Parkinson’s. Enjoy!
If you had one final statement or quote you could leave for the Parkinson’s community, what would it be?
You aren’t stuck with the brain you have… You can change it! Start PT with a neurologic physical therapist with special training and experience in Parkinson’s. Reach out to me if you are in the Fort Worth, Texas area.