New Cooking Class at UAMS Helps Parkinson’s Patients Learn to Manage Tremors in the Kitchen

By Linda Satter

But it can also be necessary, therapeutic and for many, just plain fun.

For all those reasons, as well as to encourage social interaction, the Movement Disorders Clinic at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is offering free group cooking classes for Parkinson’s patients in the Culinary Medicine Kitchen on the ground floor of the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. The kitchen opened last fall to teach and train employees and students how to prepare healthy meals.

The classes for Parkinson’s patients began Aug. 18 and are expected to be offered quarterly, with the next class scheduled for Nov. 8, and additional classes to follow in February and May. Up to 20 patients and their caretakers can participate. The participants don’t have to be UAMS patients.

All the classes are led by Alyssa Frisby, a registered dietician at UAMS, and Jasmine D. Washington, a food preparation supervisor in UAMS’ Department of Nutrition Services who is transitioning into a sous chef. All the recipes in the first class focused on fiber-rich nutrients.

Jasmine Washington, left, and Alyssa Frisby demonstrate how to safely dice an onion.

Jasmine Washington, left, and Alyssa Frisby demonstrate how to safely dice an onion.

Suzanne Dhall, Dr.PH., MSPH, CHES, health educator in the UAMS Department of Neurology, said the idea for the classes developed when participants in monthly Art for Parkinson’s classes asked what other kinds of classes were available.

“I wanted to find something that would be social and educational, and thought this would help them learn how to deal with tremors in the kitchen,” she said.

The art workshops are also put on by the UAMS Movement Disorders Clinic in coordination with Arts Integration Services and instructor Elly Bates. They began in March and are designed to introduce Parkinson’s patients to art, which research shows may help improve their motor skills. Several of the patients and their caretakers have attended multiple workshops and say they enjoy learning new skills, being creative and interacting with other people.

The initial cooking class began with Frisby demonstrating how to hold a knife properly and safely dice an onion.

The eight participants, all wearing hair nets and aprons, then stood or sat at stools before individual stations equipped with induction cooktops, spacious stainless steel countertops and various pots, pans, cutting boards and cooking utensils, following recipes. As they worked, music played in the background and Frisby and Washington circled the room observing, answering questions and demonstrating how to use the equipment.

“I do the majority of cooking in my home,” said Susan Santa Cruz of Pulaski County, as she made avocado egg salad. She said she heard about the workshop during an art class and signed up because “I hope to get some information on how to work with this, as time goes by.”

She was referring to her tremors, which started out mildly about nine years ago, leading to a Parkinson’s diagnosis, but started intensifying a couple of years ago.

She said she likes to cook for her husband, but when she’s having tremors, he does the cooking or they grab take-out.

“There are more take-out days than there used to be,” she said.

Preston Hurlburt and his wife, Nancy Hurlburt, prepare pan roasted chicken and vegetables as Susan Santa Cruz prepares a dish in the background.

Preston Hurlburt and his wife, Nancy Hurlburt, prepare pan roasted chicken and vegetables as Susan Santa Cruz prepares a dish in the background.

Preston Hurlburt, a Parkinson’s patient who, with his wife of 49 years, Nancy, is a veteran of the art classes, sat on a stool chopping cauliflower into small florets as part of the recipe they were following — pan roasted chicken and vegetables.

“I let him help me sometimes,” Nancy Hurlburt said. “I encourage him to come into the kitchen sometimes.”

Preston grinned and added, “Call me anything you want but don’t call me late to supper!”

“We are focusing on culinary techniques that can be adapted,” Frisby said, explaining that different techniques work better for different people, and she wants to show the Parkinson’s patients that they can be comfortable cooking.

“We try to review all the recipes first to see how much work is involved and how we could scale it,” Frisby said. “We also wanted to make sure we had enough variety.”

The other recipes that day, all based on the Mediterranean diet that the UAMS Culinary Kitchen promotes, included parmesan pasta with beans and greens, and salad with ranch dressing.

Jasmine Washington demonstrates proper use of a chef's knife.

Jasmine Washington demonstrates proper use of a chef’s knife.

Culinary medicine is a new evidence-based field in medicine that blends the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine. Its goal is to help people make good personal medical decisions about accessing and eating high-quality meals that help prevent and manage chronic disease and restore well-being.

Darinda Terwilliger of Vilonia, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 30 years ago, attended the class with her daughter and caretaker, Jacqueline Terwilliger. Like the Hurlburts, they prepared pan-roasted chicken and vegetables.

Though her mother doesn’t cook regularly, mainly just at Thanksgiving, “I just thought we couldn’t learn too much,” Jacqueline Terwilliger said. “I worry about her using knives and getting the pan out of the oven.”

Aside from learning how to properly use utensils to make those jobs easier, Terwilliger noted the activity is good for her mother.

”The most important thing for Parkinson’s patients to get out moving. She always feels better when she’s not cooped up, and these classes are the most awesome things.”

Darinda Terwilliger, who also likes to bake occasionally, said she heard about the cooking class while attending one of the art classes. She said she attended all the art classes and plans to sign up for other cooking classes as well.

“This right here,” her daughter said, referring to the gatherings they share with other Parkinson’s patients and caregivers, “has changed my family’s and my mom’s dynamics.”

“She feels loved,” Jacqueline Terwilliger said, motioning to her mother. Gesturing toward the other participants, she added, “They feel loved and accepted, like they’re thriving. They feel like they’re doing something for their heart and soul.”

“I do my hair,” her mother said, explaining that she likes having somewhere to go and a reason to do her hair even though, in this case, the hairnets cover up the effort.

To sign up for the next class, contact Dhall at or by calling 602-635-0739.