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Second City teaching Parkinson’s patients improv as a coping mechanism

Comedy likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Parkinson’s disease.

But a well-known improvisational comedy troupe is coming to Northwestern Memorial Hospital later this month and again next month to show Parkinson’s patients how to use improv as a way to cope with their disease.

On Feb. 21, the Second City will hold an improv session at the hospital for its Early Diagnosis and Young On-set Support Group. It will do another on March 3 for Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers. Both sessions from 9 to 10:25 a.m.

Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive degenerative disease of the central nervous system, which can causes tremors when muscles are resting, growing rigidity of muscle tone and difficulty maintaining balance.

While there is little concrete evidence to show that comedy benefits people who have the disease, Dr. Tanya Simuni, director of Parkinson’s disease and Movement Disorders Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says there is reason to think it might help.

“Improv comedy cultivates focus, improves communication, reduces stress and promotes feelings of acceptance and compassion,” Simuni said.  “All of these issues are significant contributors to daily function in a Parkinson’s patient.”

Alice Gollan, a 71-year-old Parkinson’s patient who attends the Northwestern Medicine Parkinson’s support group and is a stand-up comedian, meanwhile, said, “Parkinson’s is actually not funny. No one knows that more than me.

“But having fun is important,” Gollan said. “It’s part of what makes us human.”

For more information or to register, contact Pamela R. Palmentera at (312) 503-4397.