Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that primarily occurs when the nerve cells in the brain do not produce enough of a chemical named dopamine. This progressive nerve disorder affects the movement of a person (including their ability to speak and write). Generally, the symptoms of this disease start off gradually with light tremors on one side of the body, which may later affect both sides. Some people also experience trembling and stiffness in the muscles (of the arms, legs, jaw and face), slowness of movement, and poor balance and coordination.
It is estimated that about one million adults in the United States live with this Parkinson’s disease and more than 60,000 are diagnosed annually with it. The condition is most common among individuals above the age of 60 years, with men affected more often than women. It can cause impaired balance and coordination, involuntary movements or tremors and problems in standing and walking. Falls are most common issue among people with this disease as more than 60% of those affected suffer a fall each year; moreover, approximately two-thirds of these falls result in chronic pain and severe injuries.
A new study has found that exercise may not reduce falls, but could help patients with Parkinson’s disease improve balance and ability to move around, thereby enhancing quality of life. The results of the study were published in the December 31, 2014 online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The researchers analyzed around 231 people with this disease to determine whether exercise could potentially lower the risk of falls and improve balance, movement and overall life quality. They randomized the participants to either participate in physical therapy exercises for more than 40-60 minutes times a week for about six months or continue with the usual care. Physical therapy exercises were recommended. Most of the exercises consisted of balance and strengthening work-outs which were performed at home under minimal supervision, with around 13% of sessions monitored by a physical therapist.
It was found that participants with less severe Parkinson’s disease who participated in the exercise program witnessed a 70% reduction in falls when compared to those who did not exercise or continued with usual care. In addition, participants who exercised regularly reported improved mobility and balance, reduced fear of falls, better pain management and enhanced quality of life. The study highlights the need to start minimally supervised exercise programs in the early stage of Parkinson’s disease to reduce the incidence of falls.