Can non-contact boxing ease Parkinson's symptoms? Motion sensors may provide some answers.

At the Center for Movement Challenges in Sandy Springs, Georgia, 66-year-old Brian Soucy is punching back at Parkinson's Disease.

"It started with a tremor in these two fingers on my left hand," Soucy remembers.

That was 2017.

Man and woman pose in front of a beautiful mountain lake

Brian Soucy, 66, found non-contact boxing after his 2020 Parkinson's diagnosis. He is part of a research project to measure how boxing affects people living with Parkinson's.

By 2020, Soucy's tremors had worsened, and his movements had become stiffer.

Diagnosed with Parkinson's, the VP of engineering for a chemical company, married 44 years, started researching his options, and what he found was bleak.

"It's a neurodegenerative disease, and there's no cure," Soucy remembers reading. "There's medication to help with the symptoms, but those have side effects."

Then, Soucy discovered boxing, specifically non-contact boxing, might help to slow down the progression of Parkinson's and ease the symptoms. 

So, last spring, he started taking the Boxing for Parkinson's classes 3 or 4 times a week at the Center for Movement Challenges.

"I really noticed after the first few sessions that my attitude improved, just coming here, and feeling like you're doing something about it is a good feeling," Soucy says.

But how much good is non-contact boxing really doing?

Jim Trovato's company BioMech Labs is trying to answer that question.

They are using wireless motion-tracking sensors to measure the balance and gait of 53 Parkinson's patients in the boxing program, tracking them both before and after 6 weeks of boxing classes.

"We're able to measure someone's balance, and it's a right to left movement, their front to back movement and their rotational movement," Trovato explains.,
"Everything you see happens in seconds. We're able to do a complete gait test and a balance test on somebody within 10 to 15 seconds that would normally take half a day."

Soucy's says friends tell him he looks better and is moving more fluidly these days.

But, the sensors will measure his movement.

"It's very interesting, as an engineer, to have data where you can actually measure your balance before and after a workout," Soucy says.  "We did a baseline about 6 weeks ago, and we did it again today."

That is important because people with movement disorders cannot rely on blood test to measure to tell them how they are doing, Trovato says.

"With our technology, we're able to give them hard numbers that they can look at and see how well they're doing with exercise, medication management and things like that," he says.

If the data shows boxing is helping, it may help programs like the Center for Movement Challenges, a non-profit, find funding, from organizations like the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Adam Seever, a CFMC board member, who does not have Parkinson's, says this kind of research is important.

"It validates the fact that if you do exercise, and you do these things, you can't stop the disease, you can't cure the disease, but what you can do is keep it at bay and slow the progression," Seever says

Whatever they find, Brian Soucy says he is glad he found boxing.

"I tend to be positive, to feel like I'm getting better," he says.  "It would be nice to have some data to show for it as well."