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Having Problems with Parkinson's Disease: Try Exercise

Harold Mandel's picture
An elderly woman taking a walk

People suffering from Parkinson's disease generally feel horrible and are searching for manners to improve their condition. This can be a devastating illness which can cause tremors and slowed body movements. The best approaches to treatment of this condition, aimed at slowing its progression, are generally felt to be complementary, meaning a combination of orthodox medical approaches and alternative medicine.

Research shows that physical exercise is beneficial for motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and may also slow down progression of the disease, reports the journal of
Parkinsonism & Related Disorders. Parkinson's disease is a serious progressive neurodegenerative disease. Research findings have demonstrated that long-term, group exercise programs are possible in the Parkinson's disease population, with very good adherence and minimal drop out rates. Although this research did not provide strong evidence that exercise has a neuroprotective effect on motor function in Parkinson's disease patients, it was observed that participation in a group exercise program had a dramatic effect on symptoms of depression.

Parkinson's disease is part of a group of conditions which are called motor system disorders, which result from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells, writes the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The slow development d Parkinsonism sypmtoms due to tardive dyskinesia is often seen in patients being treated with neuroleptic drugs by psychiatrists, which cause dopamine blockade.

There are four primary symptoms of Parkinson's disease, which include:

1: Tremor

2: Trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face

3: Rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk

4: Bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination.

People with Parkinson's disease may have problems walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks, as these symptoms progress. This disorder generally affects people over the age of 50. The early symptoms are mild and occur gradually. The rate of progression of the disease varies between different people. With progression of the disease the shaking, or tremor, which affects most Parkinson's disease patients, may start to interfere with daily activities. Other symptoms of this disease include:

1: Depression and other emotional changes

2: Difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and speaking

3: Urinary problems

4: Constipation

5: Skin problems

6: Sleep disruptions

The diagnosis of this disorder is based on medical history and a neurological examination. At this time there are no blood or laboratory tests that have been proven to help in diagnosing sporadic Parkinson's disease. Brain scans or laboratory tests are sometimes ordered by doctors in order to rule out other diseases.

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There is at the present time there is no cure for Parkinson's disease. However, there are
medications which provide dramatic relief from the symptoms of this illness. Generally patients are given levodopa in combination with carbidopa. The carbidopa delays the conversion of the levodopa into dopamine until it reaches the brain. Levodopa can be used by nerve cells to make dopamine and replenish the brain's fading supply. About 75 percent of Parkinsonian cases are helped with levodopa, but not all of the symptoms respond equally to this drug. The best responses are seen with bradykinesia and rigidity. Tremor may be only slightly reduced. Problems patients experience with balance and other symptoms may not be helped at all.

Anticholinergics are used to help control tremor and rigidity.. There are other drugs, including bromocriptine, pramipexole, and ropinirole, which mimic the role of dopamine in the brain. This causes the neurons to react as they would react to dopamine. An antiviral drug, which is called amantadine, also appears to improve symptoms. Surgical intervention in the form of deep brain stimulation is sometimes used in patients who do not respond to drugs. With this treatment electrodes are implanted into the brain and connected to a small electrical device which is called a pulse generator which can be externally programmed.

The prognosis with Parkinson's disease varies. The disorder is chronic, which means it persists over a long period of time, and progressive, which means its symptoms get more severe over time. Some people with this disorder become severely disabled, while others experience only minor motor disruptions. For some patients tremor is the major symptom, while for other patients tremor is only a minor complaint with other symptoms being more troublesome. It can not be predicted accurately which symptoms will affect an individual patient. The intensity of the symptoms varies greatly from person to person.

There are many herbal remedies, dietary supplements and medical foods which are are being promoted as memory enhancers or treatments to slow down or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementias, writes Alz.org.

The claims about the safety and effectiveness of these products are based primarily on testimonials, tradition and a relatively small body of scientific research. Such natural remedies, which nevertheless appear to help many people, include:

1: Caprylic acid and coconut oil

2: Coenzyme Q10

3: Coral calcium

4: Ginkgo biloba

5: Huperzine A

6: Omega-3 fatty acids

7: Phosphatidylserine

8: Tramiprosate

Caffeine has also been shown to benefit patients with Parkinson's disease, reports EmaxHealth reporter Robin Wulffson, MD.

In a new study by a neurologist it was found that depression improved among patients with Parkinson’s disease who took part in a long-term group exercise program, reports The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center on Dec. 9, 2013. There are more than 1 million Americans affected by this progressive neurodegenerative disorder. Each year about 60,000 Americans are newly diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

The complementary approaches which can maximize functional ability and improve quality of life in people suffering from Parkinson’s disease are important, because there is progressive disability over time, in spite of the best pharmacological and surgical management. I have reported on research dealing with the potential for a laser cure for Parkinson's disease and other brain diseases in a separate article for EmaxHealth.

Principal researcher Dr. Ariane Park, has said, “Our findings demonstrate that long-term group exercise programs are feasible in the Parkinson’s disease population. Patients enjoyed exercising, and they stayed with the program that included cardiovascular and resistance training.” It was observed that patients who participated earlier in a group exercise program had significantly improved symptoms of depression in comparison to the group which started later. This is significant in view of how debilitating disorders of mood can be. In view of the fact that
greater than 50 percent of patients with Parkinson’s disease suffer from depression, it is important to help patients find new ways to cope and improve their symptoms.

Certainly, Parkinson's disease can be a devastating condition. However, it appears to me that with the right attitude and patience there is more promise than ever that many people with this disorder will be able to manage their illness well. Exercise has surfaced as being of paramount importance to help people with Parkinson's disease deal with their symptoms better and I therefore suggest anyone with this condition adhere to as active an exercise program as possible. Walking and swimming are good ideas. I also advise anyone with this condition to make certain they adhere to a nutritious diet and get adequate rest daily. A consultation with a nutritionally oriented medical doctor or naturopath to help determine which foods and supplements are best for you is advisable.