What kind of question is that?

Until one sunny day in university biology class, the only time I remember even hearing that word was in a cartoon, and I got the idea (from the “perturbed” character’s angry facial expression) that it meant being upset. What has this got to do with anything here, you may ask?  Fair question.

I was trying to find some current developments in Parkinson’s research for the blog (still working on that). Specifically, I was looking into research on impacts of physical activity and exercise on motor control in individuals with Parkinson’s disease, or PD, as the literature represents it. Among other interesting things, I encountered the terms “perturbations”, “perturbation training” and “repeated perturbation training (RPT) therapies”. It took me back to the “cyclic perturbations” referenced in my biology class…

Okay, so big deal about biology class. However, what I discovered was that one definition of perturbed lies in the direction of being anxious or upset. It was the other definition which finally rang a bell for me: “a deviation of a system, moving object, or process from its regular or normal state or path, caused by an outside influence.” [from the Oxford Living Dictionaries Online].

Imagine you are standing in a smallish boat (I hope it’s not a canoe – bad idea). Another boat passes nearby. The waves washing out from that boat hit your boat and, essentially, destabilize the deck you are standing on. It oscillates up and then down, the effect first increasing and then decreasing. That is a perturbation. And you have to react properly to it or you will lose your balance (and possibly go for a swim). Regular, rhythmic, patterned perturbations such as waves are fairly easy to adjust to and may actually cease to become perturbations and simply blend into the background on a choppy lake.

To really get the idea, think of riding off-road in an old bouncy truck (or zooming across a frozen lake on a snowmachine). You are constantly being jostled and pushed aggressively in multiple directions. Those pushes are perturbations. If you are not hanging onto something, you will almost certainly lose your balance and fall (or smack into something), most likely injuring yourself.

There’s a lot of information to digest here, so I am going to continue in tomorrow’s blog. I would challenge you, though, to think about how much of your day is spent performing complex motor functions – walking, skating, not falling on the ice, typing, playing a sport, climbing, carrying things, fixing things, playing an instrument, building things, and so forth. These are motor skills governed by extremely complex and interconnected neural pathways in our brain and central nervous system. I mention this because we almost don’t even notice it. We take it for granted. Let’s appreciate the motor abilities we have and become even more mindful of the precious gifts these abilities give us. And if I could ask for something, I would ask us all to reflect on how we might be able to support others whose motor abilities have been compromised, either through disease or injury. That is my request.