Parkinson’s disease is reported to affect over 80,000 people in Australia with the majority in the early to moderate stages of the disease. Parkinson’s disease affects components of the Basal Ganglia which sits roughly in the middle of the brain. The Basal Ganglia is part of the control centre for initiating and coordinating movement. The most common clinical symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease include tremor, which can be with movement or with rest; slow, small movements called bradykinesia and; stiff movements, otherwise known as ridigity.
At diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, most of the cells producing Dopamine have been destroyed. As the disease progresses, more and more of these cells die leading to further poverty of movement and difficulty with everyday tasks such as walking, talking, swallowing, fine motor skills such as writing and doing up buttons. Many of the people in our clinic complain that because of their Parkinson’s Disease they have given up ‘putting on their make-up’ , ‘playing golf’ or ‘going to work’.
Until recently, it was thought that this progression of cell death was irreversible and could not be slowed. Therapy has largely been focused on providing compensatory strategies such as dopamine replacement medication and movement strategies once balance and walking have become difficult and unsafe. New evidence suggests that although Parkinson’s Disease cannot be cured, the progression of the disease can be slowed, stopped or possibly reversed in the very early stages……..with exercise!
We already know that any exercise is better than no exercise for maintaining fitness, balance, posture, mobility and quality of life. There is a very positive trend in the literature showing that exercise can also be so much more, it can be a powerful medicine if prescribed at the right dose, at the right time and specifically for you by a trained neurological physiotherapist from our Parkinson’s Disease Mobility Clinic.
Using most up to date research from clinical trials, the key features of one of our exercise programs include intense, high effort, functional activities that are commenced as soon as possible following diagnosis. Most programs are delivered for up to one month, and then continued independently for life. It is recommended that you come into the clinic for a review and program top-up every six to twelve months. The earlier you start, the better the neuroprotection and neurorestoration, and the longer you can keep moving ‘normally’. It is never too late to start your program, however, the further from diagnosis, the harder and longer you will need to work to achieve similar results.
Your exercise program needs to challenge you more than you would on your own, a type of forced effort above your self-selected pace. It also needs to target the problems you have specifically with your Parkinson’s disease. Most programs will encourage exaggerated, big movements to get you moving through normal range and with the right amount of effort. Each program uses the principals of neuroscience and neuroplasticity, which when applied to an exercise program mean use it and improve it! Don’t worry if you have dodgy knees or a sore back. Every program is tailored to you and your goals.
Another benefit of this type of exercise, is that if you are on medication (and we recommend that you talk to your neurologist and start as soon as possible) the exercise program will enhance the uptake, delivery and efficiency of any Parkinson’s disease medication. Overtime this is important as your improved function may enable you to maintain a medication dose and can sometimes lead to lower doses of your medication and fewer medication-related side effects.
At present, very few people get referred to a specialist physiotherapist at diagnosis and sadly it is at this stage that exercise can have the most impact in slowing or reversing disease progression. If you have just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, book in now for a consult at our Parkinson’s Disease Mobility Clinic. Take control of your disease, you might have Parkinson’s Disease, but it doesn’t have you!