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Parkinson’s disease: Can physical therapy help?November 3, 2014
Until very recently, there was not much people in the earlier stages of Parkinson's disease could do to keep the illness at bay and keep control of their speech and movement.
That is changing as researchers look into the effects of exercise and physical therapy to help treat some symptoms of the movement disorder.
Parkinson's is a brain disorder that affects mainly older people. Neurons in the brain malfunction, making it hard to move and speak.
As the disease progresses, patients often develop shaking, tremors and difficulty with walking, movement, and talking. Routine tasks like getting out of bed can be challenging or impossible.
"There has really been a big shift in treatment," said Sandy Fini, a physical therapist specializing in Parkinson's disease at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw. "Now most doctors and neurologists and movement disorder specialists are referring people for therapy from day one. They're not waiting until the patient is falling or can't walk anymore."
Helen Hayes, a state-run rehabilitation center, has an intensive outpatient physical therapy program designed specifically for people with Parkinson's disease.
Sandy Fini talks to The Journal News about physical therapy for Parkinson's disease.
How can physical therapy help someone who has Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease causes slowness of movement and hypokinesia, rigidity of the limbs and trunk. We get the patient to exaggerate their movements beyond what they think is normal. The hope is that they will move more normally. Parkinson's affects almost every aspect of life. What we do is train the patient to move bigger than what they are used to – high effort, high intensity, high amplitude.
What kind of speech therapy does the hospital offer Parkinson's patients?
We do exercises to stimulate the muscle of the voice box. The goal is for people to speak loudly. When they have Parkinson's, they think they are speaking loudly, but they are not. We teach them how they can retain their speech so other people can understand them.
How long does the treatment take?
We recommend four sessions a week for four weeks. They sessions are divided into physical and occupational therapy. We do follow up visits every six months.