Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative movement disorder. About 60,000 people are diagnosed with PD each year, most of which are over the age of 60, with men twice as likely to have it as women. While there is no cure, treatment advancements are evolving. A recent study identified a possible connection of PD to unhealthy levels of zinc in the brain. While there is no proven cause, there are some triggers:

  • Genetics– About 15 percent have a family history.
  • Gender – Men are twice as likely as women to develop PD.
  • Lifestyle – Head trauma can be a factor as well as exposure to pesticides.

Some of the early signs of PD can be subtle, often coming and going at first. Loss of smell is a common early symptom — one may notice that it’s the sound of the smoke alarm that is the first signal to let you know that lunch has burned on the stove. Other signs may be of a gradually softening voice or penmanship that becomes progressively smaller. The most classic of the early signs of PD is the trembling of hands, arms, legs and jaw. People with Parkinson’s tend to move more slowly and their posture is rigid —  the arms don’t swing freely like they used to when walking. The shuffle-type gait of not picking up feet and feeling as if one is stuck in molasses on a cold day adds to the frustration.

As Parkinson’s progresses,  the challenge to complete simple tasks like getting dressed, tying shoes and the careful delivery of a spoonful of peas can become frustrating and incredibly time-consuming.

While the effects of Parkinson’s can creep up on us, exercise can fend off symptoms. My experience as a physical therapist in the home setting has offered me the opportunity to “self-study” how effective the physical therapy profession really is.  Physical therapist are “movement experts” and I cannot think of another diagnosis that I have seen that is so positively influenced by exercise and frequency of movement. Facilitating exercise that challenges the heart and lungs as well as promoting good body mechanics, posture and normal rhythmic movements are the best. Dancing, yoga or shadow boxing is particularly beneficial for decreasing stiffness and increasing flow of movement. It will be important to change the tempo and introduce new tasks to engage learning. Dual tasking and exercises that demand attention and progression of difficulty help to stimulate learning and enrich the activity.

Stay active and integrate exercise or gentle movement. The guidelines for people with PD are no different from those without the disease (i.e. 4-5 times a week for at least 30-40 minutes). We can help by making the exercise fun and social.  With physical therapy, it can be more stimulating and increase compliance.

Here are some things that our therapists will teach and emphasize during a visit to achieve optimal success:

  1. While taking physician prescribed medication at the same time and frequency every day is crucial, we will be the clinical support for “exercise as medicine.”
  2. Paced walking in the home or outside in your community.
  3. Posture and reducing rigidity.
  4. Improving power, speed and full completion of movement. ”Yes, please take those 3 final steps in preparation for sitting – no sideways landings.”
  5. Addressing freezing, or abruptly halting, with concise verbal cueing. We understand how difficult it can be to change direction or turn corners.
  6. Improve balance for fall prevention.
  7. We recognize the fear of falling and that your confidence can be crushed. We can work with you, beyond your insurance participation, to help you maintain your independence and ability to age in place, and empower you to live your best life.

Please give us a call if you have any questions.