Improving Quality of Life for Those with Parkinson’s Disease

Sep 9, 2016

Ben Kagen

by Ben Kagen
PT, DPT | Ahwatukee Location

I have just finished my first year of practice as a licensed physical therapist with Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy. Previously, I attended Northern Arizona University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, where treatment of Parkinson’s disease was a large focus. There I had the opportunity to work directly with patients with Parkinson’s in a clinic setting. These patients were dancing Tango, walking in the annual Parkinson’s charity walk/run, performing Tai Chi, in addition to much more. They were always excited to share stories about their independence in enjoying northern Arizona’s active lifestyle. This was an excellent opportunity for me to see that people with Parkinson’s disease can improve their quality of life with physical therapy. I hope to share the same techniques and theories I learned at NAU with people in the Phoenix area.
Did you know that Parkinson’s disease affects up to 1 million Americans each year? Did you know that treating the disease with medication could cost on average of $2,500 per year and surgeries up to $100,000 per patient to improve one’s quality of life? Those are staggering statistics for a disease that is not curable. Economic impact aside, this disorder can be a psychological battle for those that have been impacted either directly or indirectly.
I have seen friends combat Parkinson’s progressive symptoms and I have seen people who show symptoms but are not diagnosed. It is important to understand Parkinson’s so that you may help identify and begin treating progressive symptoms early. If you or someone you know has the below symptoms please recommend a visit with a Neurologist who may further recommend physical therapy treatment.
Parkinson’s is a neurological progressive disease that affects a motor control or movement system of the brain. Typically it is seen in people over 60 years of age. Movement symptoms start on one side of the body and progress to the opposite side. Characteristic initial symptoms include the following:

  • slow speed and uncoordinated movement
  • weakness of posture muscles
  • stiffness, and
  • resting tremors

Additionally, patients may experience fatigue, frustration, decreased motivation, and depression. If you are thinking, “those are symptoms of any elderly person” you may not necessarily be right and usually these symptoms continue to worsen if they are not treated.
How would you be able to identify someone with Parkinson’s in the community? It may be the person who is walking slowly with shuffled feet, very poor posture, and has difficulty speaking loudly. You have probably seen many people with Parkinson’s and unfortunately most may not know they have a disease. Although there is no cure to Parkinson’s, there are treatments to improve one’s quality of life and make it more manageable.
Primary treatment of Parkinson’s disease consists of medication, as this is a neurological disease where one lacks the ability to produce a chemical called dopamine. As you would have guessed, studies have shown that physical therapy can be a useful adjunct treatment to address movement symptoms. New research is being conducted to also show that physical therapy can improve associated cognitive loss, according to a study published in 2015 in the Official Journal of the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.
Given that this is a neurological disease why would I seek or send someone for treatment at an orthopedic clinic like Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy? Depending on how progressed symptoms are, a person may be able to benefit from an orthopedic focus. Movement dysfunction, weakness, and stiffness are a few of many symptoms that are orthopedic in presentation that physical therapists address. Due to the symptoms mentioned above, a person with Parkinson’s may be at risk for falling. Prevention of re-injury and fall are main staples of physical therapy treatment.
Contact your local Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy clinic to see if you or someone you know may benefit from treatment.

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