Life with Parkinson’s disease: how physiotherapy can help

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Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain that responsible for body movement. When working with PD clients, The Physio Co team members (TPCers) focus on helping to reduce the symptoms caused by PD to enable a quality of life that helps to keep seniors safe, happy and mobile for as long as possible.

Treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease isn’t simply a matter of conducting a physio session; it’s important to help the client keep their spirits up. And sometimes a left-field approach brings the best results.

One client with PD we’ve worked with springs immediately to mind. A gentleman named Nev, who suffered fairly debilitating Parkinson’s disease symptoms and loved Aussie rules footy.  So, his TPC Physio, Robyn, always took a footy with her to their treatment sessions. Robyn usually brought a small, soft, pink footy – belonging to her three young daughters – to use for exercises.

One day, Robyn forgot the footy and – thinking on her feet – borrowed a small soccer ball from a storeroom at the aged care facility that was Nev’s home thinking that’d do the trick for today’s session,

Coming from Australia’s northern states, Robyn hadn’t immediately thought what a footy-mad Victorian would make of this.

Well, for Nev, this was big!  Cue mock outrage! Although Nev’s day-to-day ability to show emotion was diminishing, the sight of an interstate physio trying to handball a soccer ball to him like it was AFL footy had him in fits of laughter!

Keep moving

Handballing is an excellent exercise for Parkinson’s sufferers, as is laughing, dancing, stepping, golf and boxing (for the right clients). Anything that tests rotation and cross-body coordination helps to keep the trunk mobile, extended and rotating – and helps to strengthen the muscles that suffer as the disease progresses.

The degenerative nature of Parkinson’s means the symptoms will worsen as time goes on, presenting a huge physical and mental challenge. Parkinson’s can’t be cured – but it can be contained, for a while. By devising a tailored regime to help clients feel physically strong, our physios help them know they’re not tackling this hurdle alone.

From early diagnosis, our TPCers work with clients to build a regular exercise program. Together, they create and educate a support team consisting of family, friends and carers. The programs specifically target strength and balance, as well as attempting to retain general endurance and fitness levels.

The symptoms of Parkinsons’ Disease (PD) vary

 The symptoms of PD vary from person to person, as does the rate of progression. But a person who has Parkinson’s may experience some of these more common symptoms:

  • Bradykinesia: Slowness of movement and decreased control of their hands.
  • Tremor at rest: Involuntary shaking that decreases with purposeful movement.
  • Rigidity: Stiffness caused by an increase in muscle tone.
  • Postural instability: A feeling of being unbalanced which people often compensate for by lowering their centre of gravity, or bending down, that results in a stooped posture, changed way of walking and bigger risk of falling.

These usual changes are areas TPCers focus on. We know that walking and posture usually change with PD, so we work to train the muscles that are going to suffer. We also prescribe back exercises to prevent the trunk from becoming too rigid and flexed.

Some people work best with audio cues, others with visual cues

Different methods work with different clients, so we experiment to find what works for each person. For instance, coloured electrical tape stuck on the floor in as lines to guide a client where to land their heel with big steps while walking can be a great help to avoid the shuffling and stooping that often comes with PD.

Messages from the brain to the body do slow with the progression of PD, and movement stops being an automated instruction. So we need to give the brain a helping hand when our autopilot is playing up. We help the brain and the body by trying to retrain how to do these things easier.  For example, clients often speak out loud to remind themselves to “take big steps, swing my arms” – perhaps even to a favourite song. Music is often a great help for people with PD.

It’s about incorporating life as it has always been into physio treatment – and having fun!

Back to our soccer star Robyn! She also worked with another gentleman with PD who had poor mobility and kept falling. Before PD arrived, he had been very fit and enjoyed swimming with his wife at their pool at home.

You can imagine how keenly he felt the loss of his fitness, so Robyn helped him safely get back into a pool and swimming with his wife. He loved doing his shoulder and back exercises in the pool.

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is certainly life-changing, but it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. Movement is one of the keys to managing PD as best as possible.  With help from a TPC Physio, it can be tackled with a solid game plan (whatever your preferred code of football!).


Interested in knowing more?

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