How The Foundation of Light is keeping Parkinson’s community social and active

The Foundation of Light is reflecting on how their walking football sessions are making a difference for those living with Parkinson’s disease.

The official charity of Sunderland AFC hosts a weekly session with the support of Parkinson’s UK to help those living with neurological diseases to stay active and social.

Kevin Ramsey, aged 54, is a long-time attendee of the walking football sessions after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s two years ago.

“When I first started coming nearly a year and a half ago, there was only two of us,” Kevin commented on the importance of the sessions.

“It’s just grown and grown, now there’s 11 or 12 of us. Before I came here, I didn’t know anybody with Parkinson’s disease, I didn’t know anything about neurological diseases.

“So it’s not just the fitness, it’s the mental side as well. Having other people who are going through the same things I’m going through really helps a lot.”

On living with Parkinson’s, Kevin added: “I was diagnosed two years ago and I probably had symptoms for four to five years before that.

“Being a typical bloke, I ignored it and thought ‘I’ll be fine’ and my symptoms got progressively worse until I went to the doctor’s.

“I went through a diagnosis period of around six or seven months, and ultimately I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“After the uncertainty and stress of ‘what’s wrong with me, why don’t they just tell me,’ it actually came as a bit of a relief and I thought ‘okay, this is what I’ve got, now I can learn about it and can work out a plan of action to combat it as much as I can.’”

For those with Parkinson’s, exercise is a vital component to maintaining balance, mobility and activities of daily living.

Kevin’s love of football brought him to the Foundation of Light’s neurological football sessions, and it has been a stepping stone to increasing his physical activity.

“Without being able to come here on a Tuesday, I would just sit at home, vegetate, and waste away,” he said on the impact playing walking football can have on managing symptoms.

“It’s easy to just sit on the sofa and go ‘I have a disease,’ whereas I’ve joined a gym now, I come here, I go out for walks. You’ve kind of got to force yourself to do something every day because exercise is great for the mind and the body.

“After the session, just to sit down and talk to each other, find out what we’re all up to, find out what somebody’s been struggling with over a cup of tea and a biscuit. That’s just as important to me as the fitness and playing football.

“It’s the simple things that sometimes really help.”

Another participant of the weekly sessions is 66-year-old Erika Cummings, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in November 2022 just months before her retirement.

“There was a tremor for a good while, which I thought was down to anxiety. I think it’s a bit of both with me, but I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” she said.

“It doesn’t stop me, I’m very positive. Although some mornings you feel ‘I can’t be bothered’ and just the aching, the stiffness, and your head’s not in the same place, you’ve just got to be positive.”

Erika also stresses how participating both socially and physically can be vital for managing life with Parkinson’s disease, saying: “It’s as though you haven’t got Parkinson’s.

“You meet a lot of people from all different walks of life, because it doesn’t just affect a certain group of people, it can affect anybody.

“So you learn about them, their background, how they came to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. You’re just having a chat about this, that, or the other.

“I am the only lady at the minute, although there is another one coming. That never put me off. I feel much better when I’m leaving than when I came in.”

Around 10 million people have the condition worldwide – that’s less than one percent of the total population. Most people who get Parkinson’s are over 60, but one in ten are under 50.