A Step Forward for Parkinson’s Patients

Parkinson disease patients who exercise may improve balance, mobility and quality of life

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Some of the many health benefits of exercise may also apply to patients with Parkinson's. Parkinson's patients who exercise may have improved balance and mobility.

A new study found that an exercise program aimed at decreasing falls can be effective in those with less severe Parkinson’s disease. While those with more severe disease may not lower their falling risk with exercise, they may experience physical and psychological health benefits from it.

Colleen G. Canning, PhD, of the University of Sydney in Australia, and colleagues wrote this study. 

Dr. Canning noted that about 60 percent of Parkinson’s patients fall each year — and two-thirds of those who fall have repeated falls.

"I would encourage people with Parkinson's disease to make a New Year's resolution to incorporate exercise into their management plan for their Parkinson's disease," Dr. Canning told dailyRx News.

"Currently, fall prevention interventions are often only considered in Parkinson’s treatment once a sufferer has fallen. However, our study suggests that people with Parkinson's disease should not wait until they are having problems balancing and experiencing falls before they consider exercise as an evidence-based treatment."

Dr. Canning continued, "I would encourage people with Parkinson's disease to consult a physical therapist (with expertise in managing people with Parkinson's disease) for prescription and monitoring of an appropriate evidence-based exercise program."

While all elderly people face an increased risk of falling, this risk is double for those living with Parkinson’s disease, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. The illness is a type of movement disorder that can interfere with walking and doing simple tasks. It most often begins in those who are 60 or older.

Dr. Canning and team followed 231 patients with Parkinson’s disease for six months. A total of 115 received fall-prevention advice along with an exercise program. This program consisted of 40 to 60 minutes of balance and leg-strengthening exercises three times a week.

A control group of 116 patients received fall-prevention advice but did not participate in an exercise program.

Dr. Canning and team observed that those in the exercise program who had less severe Parkinson’s reduced their number of falls by 70 percent — compared to their peers in the control group.

Those with more severe disease in the exercise group, however, did not have fewer falls compared to those in the non-exercise group.

Even if exercise patients didn’t lower their risk of falling, most had some physical and psychological benefits. Overall, the exercisers performed better on tests of their ability to move and balance. They had a lower fear of falling. They also indicated a better overall mood and quality of life.

A physical therapist prescribed and monitored the exercise program in this study. Patients performed most of these exercises at home.

This study was published online Dec. 31 in Neurology.

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Harry Secomb Foundation funded this research. Some of the study authors received research support from the Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, the Harry Secomb Foundation and Parkinson’s NSW.

Review Date: 
December 31, 2014
Last Updated:
January 5, 2015