Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a complex condition affecting your ability to control your body’s movements. Symptoms include tremors, slow movements, stiffness and difficulties with balance and coordination. It can’t be cured so treatment focuses on managing symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease.
Exercise is a very effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease. That’s why a skilled therapist is such an important member of your treatment team. Parkinson’s Disease and Physiotherapy
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) happens when there’s a problem with your nervous system that makes it hard to control your body movements.
The name comes from Dr James Parkinson, a doctor, social reformer and political activist who first established ‘the shaking palsy’ as a medical condition in 1817.
With Parkinson’s, the nerve cells (called neurons) in your brain gradually die. That causes a drop in your levels of dopamine, a chemical that carries messages between the areas of your brain that control body movement. Low dopamine levels make it hard to control your muscles, both when you’re resting and when you’re active. In particular the brain loses capacity to initiate movements, and will underestimate the amount of movement that it has made.
At least 80,000 Australians live with Parkinson’s disease making it more common than many well-known cancers. PD also becomes three times more common as you get older. Given Australia’s ageing population, it’s likely that PD will become much more common in the coming years.
We’re still investigating the causes of Parkinson’s disease. Possible causes include environmental factors and head injuries. Family history may also play a part, though it’s uncommon to inherit Parkinson’s disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease causes many different symptoms. Some are obvious and some are hidden. Each person is different – you don’t have to have all these symptoms to have Parkinson’s disease.
Common motor (movement) symptoms include:
- Slowed movements such as walking slowly, not blinking as much or fewer facial movements
- Stiff muscles
- A resting tremor, meaning a finger, hand or limb that moves of its own accord when you’re relaxed
- Difficulty with balance or coordination (this often worsens as the disease progresses)
There are a range of other, less obvious symptoms including:
- Low blood pressure
- Mood changes
- Speech and swallowing problems
- Vision changes
- Sleep difficulties.
By the time you become aware of these symptoms and get a diagnosis, the disease has often progressed substantially. It is important to started on treatment as soon as possible.
How Is Parkinson’s Disease Treated?
There is, as yet, no cure for Parkinson’s disease but there are many different ways to manage its symptoms. It can take a bit of time to find the best treatment for your particular experience of Parkinson’s. As the disease progresses, your treatment will need to adapt too.
Possible treatments include:
- Medicines that can be swallowed, injected or given through a tube that goes directly into your small intestine
- Deep brain stimulation (a surgical procedure)
- Exercise, as this can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.
Because the disease is so complex, you’ll benefit from a multidisciplinary treatment team that may include doctors, nurse specialists, physiotherapists, exercise physiologists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, dieticians, psychologists and social workers.
How Does Physiotherapy Help People with Parkinson’s Disease?
Exercise is one of the most effective treatments for Parkinson’s disease. It helps with balance, strength and mobility. It can also slow down the progression of the disease, helping you stay well for longer. Many different forms of exercise can help. Pick something that’s enjoyable, safe and a little bit challenging.
Because Parkinson’s disease affects your movements and because exercise is so beneficial, your treatment team will often include a physiotherapist who can:
- Assess how Parkinson’s is affecting your movements
- Recommend exercises to build your muscle strength and flexibility
- Help you keep fit
- Help you improve your balance to prevent falls
- Help you manage pain.
Therapeutic exercises, prescribed by your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist, are different to you participating in a general exercise program. In our experience you get the most benefit when combining the two. This gives you targeted exercises to improve your movement, as well as general fitness.
How Can Neurospace Help?
Neurospace has a special focus on neurological physiotherapy. We help people with Parkinson’s disease or other complex neurological conditions by providing targeted therapy to ease your movement difficulties. Many of our staff have completed extra training to help PD. We have a range of approaches including our own exercise groups to suit the needs of our clients.
Our team includes physiotherapists, massage therapists and exercise physiologists working in our gym, our therapy pool or your place if you need a home visit.
Please call us on 6162 0450 if you’d like to make an appointment. We’re following COVID-19 guidelines and offering telehealth, home visits and carefully managed in-clinic appointments.
How Do You Manage Parkinson’s During the Pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic creates extra challenges for people living with a complex chronic condition like Parkinson’s. People with underlying conditions are known to be more susceptible to the illness but are at risk of other problems if they stop receiving their usual care.
If you’re living with Parkinson’s during COVID-19, then we recommend that you:
- Follow public health advice to minimise the spread of the coronavirus, including good hand hygiene and social distancing
- Get a flu jab soon – this won’t protect you from COVID-19 but will reduce the risk of catching flu, a serious respiratory disease in its own right
- Continue getting your usual PD care – that means keeping your regular appointments with your usual team of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.
The last point is very important. The last thing we want is for your condition to worsen because your care has been interrupted by COVID-19. You can and should keep getting your usual care, even if it’s through telehealth for a while.
So, stay safe and stay well. And, if you’d like help from one of our neurological physiotherapists during this time, please call Neurospace on 6162 0450.