Around 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year. The much dreaded disease is a progressive neurological disorder which occurs in the elderly, at around 60 years of age. If it occurs in younger patients of 20 to 40 years, it is called Young-onset Parkinson’s disease. The disease is triggered by progressive neuronal damage and subsequent loss of the neurotransmitter, dopamine in the brain. Loss of dopamine causes abnormal involuntary movement and tremors. Imbalance and gait abnormalities develop and people experience problem in walking.
Parkinson’s disease is classified as a movement disorder, hence the muscular structures are affected the most. People suffering from Parkinson’s disease normally have impaired balance an instability in gait which often leads to falls and trauma. The numbers are huge; around 60% people with Parkinson’s disease experience fall each year, out of which around two-thirds fall more often.
According to the lead author, Colleen G. Canning, “The resulting injuries, pain, limitations of activity and fear of falling again can really affect people’s health and well-being.”
For their study, the researchers recruited 231 people suffering from Parkinson’s in order to assess the effects of exercise on the quality of life. They were randomized into two groups. People in one group were signed up for a 40-60 minute, thrice-a-week, exercise program for 6 months, while the other group was allowed to carry on with the care they received.
For group one, the regime consisted of exercises for strengthening movements in the leg and also for coordinating movements. All these exercises had been recommended by physical therapists and they also supervised 13% of the sessions. The rest were performed under minimal supervision, at home.
The results showed a 70% reduction in falls in the exercise group when compared with the other group. The participants of the exercise group reported good mobility and great stability in their gait. They also said that the fears regarding constant falls had been decreased.
“These results suggest that minimally supervised exercise programs aimed at reducing falls in people with Parkinson’s should be started early in the disease process,” the researchers said.
As the study notes, patients would benefit greatly if something as easy as exercise wold improve the quality of life. Balance and movement stability may prove to be life changing for patients since the debilitating disease can progress to having abnormal postures and impaired movements, which can be devastating.
“These findings are important for both the general population and the health care of patients with Parkinson’s disease,” concluded the the researchers.
The research was conducted by the researchers of the University of Sydney in Australia, published the journal Neurology.