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How ping-pong is helping patients with Parkinson's disease

Doctors say playing ping-pong could help manage symptoms of Parkinson's disease
Doctors say playing ping-pong could help manage symptoms of Parkinson's disease 02:14

HACKENSACK, N.J. (CBS) -- An unusual therapy for Parkinson's disease is gaining popularity. In addition to traditional treatments for Parkinson's, boxing has been shown to be helpful, and now, another sport: ping-pong.

Ping-pong is helping patients with the neurological disorder.

Three years ago, Roben Seltzer was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

The once-athletic 67-year-old's symptoms were so bad, he could barely get out of bed.

"I lost 70 pounds," Seltzer said. "I was flapping."

Along with physical therapy and medication to manage symptoms like tremors, stiffness and slowness, doctors recommended ping-pong.

"My reaction was, 'How could that help anybody?'" Seltzer said.

"It incorporates a focus on balance, and on hand-eye coordination, and the rhythm of pace of reciprocal play," Dr. Elana Clar, co-founder of the New Jersey chapter of Ping Pong Parkinson, said. "So, it really hits the trifecta of physical, cognitive, and social activities."

Every Tuesday night in River Edge, Parkinson's patients, or "pongers" as they're called, play with volunteers of all ages -- called "hitters."

"When I start up, I'm a little stiff," Seltzer said. "My shots are a little bit off. My timing's a little bit off and I'm a little bit frustrated. And then, after about 15 or 20 minutes, suddenly things kick in."

The goal is to improve attention, movement, mood and social connection among people striving to outpace a progressive disease.

"It's kind of opened me up to new experiences," Seltzer said. "Like, I've thought over the last few weeks, 'Maybe I can get back on skis." You know, even if it's just going down the bunny slope. I really miss that."

Seltzer says he's training for next year's ping-pong world championships because his condition has improved so much.

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