Help for Parkinson’s Patients

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Things can seem bleak for Parkinson’s sufferers facing long wait times to see a neurologist in Canada; perhaps as long as three years. And when they are seen, often little hope is offered for the daily tremors, internal complaints, and painful limbs. In fact, a doctor might suggest the patient does not exert themselves for fear of falling.

The medications for the treatment of Parkinson’ disease are often prescribed with little or no directions for the optimal consumption of the drug. This may mean the patient receives little perceptible benefit from the medications.

Our system is bogged down for Parkinson’s patients unlike the comparable system in the US where studies are taking place. The US seems more aware of how this chronic and debilitating disease can be treated, not just endured.

In 2010, the New England Journal of Medicine reported a curious result of studies done in the Netherlands. The medical speak is “kinesia paradoxica”, or literally translated, “movement paradox.” A 58-year-old Parkinson’s patient of 10 years was videoed being helped along a hospital corridor by a nurse. His gait was halting and limited. He shuffled and stumbled to the floor, being helped up by the assistant. Once he reached their destination however — the exterior doors — a bicycle awaited that would demonstrate a surprising difference.

Anyone watching would expect the worst for this gentlemen, but we see the opposite. Once the patient mounts the bicycle, an astonishing transformation in movement happens. His grounded gait becomes the easy, fluid movement of a cyclist. He’s even turning around in the street, stopping at stop signs, and returning like a young man to the doors of the hospital, incident-free. The hobbled movement returns only after he dismounts, resumes walking, and is helped back by the nurse.

This effect is not just for a chosen few, but is possible for other Parkinson’s sufferers, too. If one learned to cycle any time after six years old, these neurological pathways were laid down in the brain after one learned to walk and talk — which are the first motor skills to go in Parkinson’s patients. People often feel freedom, as though they are flying, released from the constraints of their illness while they are in the act of cycling.

The health benefits of gentle exercise are obvious. Whether cycling, wading in a pool, or alternated stretching, compressing and flexing of muscles from a standing or seated position, the lactic acid which has built up through the constant tremors of the illness is released, taking the pain and stiffness with it. The secret is not to overdo, but to monitor your body and repeat as needed.

The point of the exercise is not for cardio benefits. It might be compared to why they walk horses after a strenuous workout. This low-impact action removes the pent up acid from their muscles, relieving the same kind of pain and stiffness. With Parkinson’s, the patient can be experiencing muscle movement throughout their bodies all the time, not just in the outwardly afflicted areas.

If you want to see this remarkable video yourself, go to http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMicm0810287#t=article.

As with any exercise, use common sense:  modify it for your age and condition, and have help standing by if assistance is needed.

By Deborah Carew

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