Parkinson’s disease is progressive, with symptoms intensifying over time. The once confident motions of a brisk walk become stiff and slow. While Parkinson’s disease may make subtle advances, what’s not subtle is the effect exercise has to roll back time when combined with drug therapy.
Progression of Parkinson’s Disease
Without a test to confirm Parkinson’s, neurologists diagnose patients who are mostly age 60-80. Parkinson’s disease impairs brain cells, slowly stopping them from making dopamine, a chemical responsible for delivering messages about movement and coordination. Family members often first notice slow walking, balance issues or resting tremors — the telltale signs of Parkinson’s. Other signs are lost sense of smell, difficulty with small movements like buttoning clothing and stiffness in limbs or trunk.
Good Reason for Optimism
“Patients fair better when they are devoted to exercise,” said Brian Averell, DO, neurologist with Mission Neurology. “It’s almost as important as taking their medicines.”
According to studies, patients who exercise have more normal motor activities. Mounting evidence suggests exercise may protect brain cells from further loss and restore lost connections. Exercise is fast sprinting to the spotlight as a crucial part of managing Parkinson’s.
“We’re hopeful, because we never know what advances are right around the corner,” said Dr. Averell.
Medications used to manage Parkinson’s replace dopamine in the brain. Deep brain stimulation is an option to help manage tremors and stiffness and slowness. Specially designed exercise programs for Parkinson’s like LSVT BIG® and LSVT LOUD® help patients exaggerate movement and sound to negate the minimizing effects of Parkinson’s. While some patients consider alternative treatments and dietary modifications, these should only be considered as part of a legitimate exercise and medication regime.
“Patients feel they’ve turned back time, after addressing Parkinson’s with medicines and exercise,” said Dr. Averell.
Brian Averell, DO, is a neurologist with Mission Neurology.