Nenad Bach is a Croatian-American composer and singer. He’s also a person who lives with Parkinson’s disease.
Bach is the founder of “Ping Pong Parkinson,” a movement that promotes ping pong (also known as table tennis) as a therapeutic activity that has improved the lives of Parkinson’s patients worldwide.
After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010, Bach found that his tremors and other symptoms were keeping him from playing music (he plays the guitar). But a friend introduced him to table tennis, and he soon found that both his motor skills and his mood seemed to improve when he played.
Bach’s neurologist confirmed his improved status. And that’s when the idea for Ping Pong Parkinson took root.
Ping Pong for Parkinson’s
In 2017, Bach recruited well-known New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz to help him. Shortz also happens to be the owner of the Westchester Table Tennis Center.
Dr. Art Dubow and Irene Silbert also helped Bach establish “Ping Pong Parkinson” in 2017.
In October of 2019, the first Parkinson’s World Table Tennis Championship was held at the Center, attracting people with Parkinson’s from as far away as Sweden, Japan, Brazil, Croatia, England, and China.
How does it help Parkinson’s?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced by a portion of the brain called the substantia nigra. It’s a part of the brain where Parkinson’s disease develops when the cells begin to die.
Dopamine controls muscle movement, everything from walking and gripping with the hands, to smiling and swallowing. So, as less and less dopamine is produced, Parkinson’s symptoms become more and more apparent including:
- Bradykinesia (slow movement)
- Rigid muscles (in the face, this appears as a “mask-like” look associated with the disease)
- Inability to maintain an upright posture
- Shuffling gait
- Soft or inaudible voice
- Poor balance
- Loss of automatic movements, like blinking
- Small or more cramped handwriting
A common treatment for Parkinson’s involves administering levodopa, a precursor that is converted to dopamine. But it has its drawbacks, including a condition called dyskinesia which causes strange, jerky movements you can’t control.
Ping pong, on the other hand, has no side effects…
According to Ping Pong Parkinson, table tennis engages motor and cognitive skills. It requires motor planning (when to hit the ball), cognitive skills (visual-spatial attention), and executive skills (problem-solving and motor planning).
Recently, a small study was conducted by scientists at Fukuoka University in Japan. Persons with Parkinson’s participated in a table tennis exercise program once a week for six months.
Participants experienced significant improvements in facial expression, posture rigidity, speed of movement and hand tremors.
They also experienced improvements in speech, handwriting, getting dressed, getting out of bed and walking.
Dr. Ken-ichi Inoue of Fukuoka University, the study’s author, comments that, while this study was small (with twelve participants), “the results are encouraging because they show ping pong, a relatively inexpensive form of therapy, may improve some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.”
Dr. Inoue is planning a much larger study to confirm his findings.
Ping Pong Parkinson is spreading
The non-profit initially founded by Nenad Bach in Westchester County, NY, now also meets in two tennis clubs in Bergen County, New Jersey, one of which, the Wang Chen Table Tennis Club, has begun holding weekly meetings on Thursdays at 6:30.
Below is a brief video explaining the benefits of Ping Pong Parkinson for participants.
And here are some videos of the therapy in action, including a song about the game written and performed by Nenad Bach himself!
- Study finds picking up a pingpong paddle may benefit people with Parkinson’s — EurekAlert
- We are Ping Pong Parkinson — PingPongParkinson.com
- Nenad Bach (Ping Pong Parkinson) part 1 — Butterfly Online
- Ping Pong Therapy For Parkinson’s Coming To Bergen — Wyckoff, NJ Patch
- Parkinson’s disease — Mayo Clinic