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By Mary Lundgren, PT, Orange City Area Health System Physical & Occupational Therapy

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that affects up to an estimated one million people in America and more than 10 million people worldwide (American Parkinson Disease Association, 2019). Chances are that you know someone with Parkinson’s or you yourself are affected by this disease. Let’s learn more about it.

Parkinson’s is considered a progressive disease with symptoms typically starting gradually, being barely noticeable and then becoming worse and more noticeable overtime. It is a disease that can affect how well we can do the things that we do every day-walking, talking, getting dressed, eating and writing. It can be very frustrating to people who find it difficult, and getting more difficult, to do the things that they used to do and want to do.

The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are not the same for everyone but do have certain tendencies that point to it. Most people who develop Parkinson’s disease usually begin to see symptoms/signs after the age of 50. There is a small percentage that it can affect at an earlier age and is then called Early Onset Parkinson’s disease. The motor symptoms usually seen in Parkinson’s disease include tremor(shaking), bradykinesia(slowness of movement), rigid muscles (stiffness), impaired posture and balance (stooped posture and increased tendency to fall), decreased automatic movements (things that we do without thinking about them-smiling, blinking, swinging your arms when you walk), talking (speech may be softer, slurred and hesitant) and writing (hard to write and writing may appear small and not able to be read as well).

People with Parkinson’s tend to become more inactive and embarrassed about how they move. They tend to withdraw from social situations where others may notice their symptoms.

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown. There is evidence that genetics, the environment or combination of both play a role in causing Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s is a movement disorder that affects how a person moves. Our bodies move by getting signals from our brain. In Parkinson’s, cell loss in the brain, is in a very specific region, that produces the neurotransmitter dopamine.   Dopamine allows our nerves to communicate and helps to regulate movement so that when we move, we can move well. It does this automatically without us thinking too much about it. In Parkinson’s disease, movements become more hesitant and slow. It is harder to get started moving and harder to stop.

There is no cure (yet) for Parkinson’s disease. There are treatments that can assist in management of Parkinson’s disease. A combination of medication and therapies (physical, occupational and speech therapy) has been effective in assisting those with Parkinson’s. Surgical options may also assist a certain subset of those with Parkinson’s. Previously therapies were not often recommended until the later stages of Parkinson’s when symptoms were more noted or that additional problems had occurred such as a hip fracture from a fall or aspiration problems due to swallowing difficulties. Research has now shown that early intervention is beneficial in helping to improve motor performance and potentially slow the progression of the motor symptoms. Healthcare professionals can suggest and help educate on lifestyle changes that can assist in management of Parkinson’s disease. Recommendations can be given regarding a healthy diet and proper exercise program to include fitness training, strengthening and flexibility, and gait and balance training. The therapist can assist in determining what is best for you. Exercise can be beneficial for not only the physical well-being but also the psychological aspect that those affected by Parkinson’s disease are doing something about their disease. Exercise programs that target those with Parkinson’s include biking, swimming, dancing and even boxing.  One program available for Parkinson’s disease is offered at Orange City Area Health System. It is the LSVT BIG and LSVT LOUD program. A team of physical, occupational and speech therapists work together to educate and instruct on exercises, life style changes and strategies that can assist in the management of Parkinson’s symptoms.

A big key to Parkinson’s management is to keep moving and do it consistently-every day.

Helpful information can also be found through the American Parkinson’s Disease Association and the Parkinson’s Foundation and their websites.

Sources: American Parkinson ’s disease Foundation, Mayo Clinic, LSVT Global

LSVT BIG

Orange City Area Health System offers the LSVT BIG Parkinson’s program from three certified clinicians including two occupational therapists (Stacy and Christin) and one physical therapist, Mary Lundgren PT. This program is directed towards those with Parkinson’s disease and aims to improve motor movement, which ultimately improves daily living tasks and mobility. The program is coordinated between both an occupational therapist and a physical therapist in order to provide a comprehensive approach to address and improve limitations and maximize overall function. LSVT LOUD, which addresses the speech motor system, is also available at Orange City Area Health System through a certified speech therapist, Billi Swanson, CCC-SLP.

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