The Importance of Exercise for Parkinson’s Disease

Most of us know that regular exercise is a crucial component of living (and aging) in a healthy way. For those diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, this is especially true. 

Those living with Parkinson’s Disease will experience a range of physical symptoms. They may experience tremors, weakness of their limbs, stiffness, shuffling of their gate, and loss of coordination and balance. Regular exercise can help mitigate these symptoms by strengthening muscle groups and encouraging joint flexibility and limberness. Not only does regular exercise help with the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease – it helps with the mental and emotional aspects as well, combatting concentration loss, anxiety, and depression. 

Studies show that regular exercise slows the progression of symptoms caused by PD and increases the longevity of life quality. 

Of course, the earlier you start a regular exercise routine, the better. But regular physical activity at any stage of Parkinson’s is beneficial. Below are some types of exercise that are particularly helpful for those living with PD:

  • Tai Chi – This gentle exercise can sometimes be referred to as meditation in motion. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese practice that involves moving into different postures using fluid movement. This can be a good exercise for those living with Parkinson’s Disease, as it is slow and gentle. Studies have shown that those diagnosed with PD who participate in regular Tai Chi show improved functionality, improved balance impairments, and reduced falls. 
  • Yoga – For those living with PD, Yoga can help with flexibility and warding off muscle rigidity. This is a low-impact practice that can help improve strength, flexibility, and limberness. 
  • Pilates – Pilates is another low-impact exercise that can improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. Pilates helps with strength, coordination, balance, posture, flexibility, and muscular strength. Because it is low-impact, the risk of injury with Pilates is low as well. 
  • Qigong – this is another fluid movement exercise that encourages intention and breathwork with low-impact movement. Studies done involving those diagnosed with PD who participate in Qigong show notable improvements in their motor function, overall balance, and ability to walk. There are many types and subsets of Qigong, which you can read more about here.
  • Non-Contact Boxing – This low-impact form of boxing helps individuals with PD show improvement in their balance and gait. There is even a non-profit organization devoted to addressing Parkinson’s symptoms with non-contact boxing. Rock Steady Boxing has been in the business of training since 2006. They believe that non-contact boxing improves the physical symptoms of PD and instills empowerment and control over the disease by allowing one to physically “fight” against the disease. 

There are different ways to modify specific exercises so that they can be done safely and effectively. Stanford Medicine provides a list of free exercise programs. The resources on this list include modified chair exercises, short-duration sets, and dance videos that you can stream online in the safety and comfort of your own home. Of course, not all exercise programs will be appropriate for everyone diagnosed with PD. 

The important thing to remember is that any physical activity done consistently will improve the mind, body, and spirit. 

A diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease can be overwhelming, but you can have a measure of control over your symptoms and how quickly the disease progresses. Regular and consistent physical activity is proven to slow disease progression and improve the overall quality of life. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with PD and is struggling, reach out to us today to see how we can help you maintain or even improve your quality of life. 

Parkinson’s Disease – Symptoms May Occur Years Before Diagnosis

Parkinson’s Disease is a slow and progressive neurological condition.

PD occurs when the nerve cells in the brain (neurons) that produce dopamine begin to break down or die. The nervous system uses dopamine to communicate between nerve cells. Dopamine affects our moods, movement, and memory, among other things. Parkinson’s Disease attacks the nerve cells that produce dopamine. Individuals diagnosed with PD may experience tremors, difficulty speaking and swallowing generalized slowness, and shuffling. PD has been diagnosed in over a million people in the US alone.  

That number doesn’t include the number of people who love those diagnosed and its impact on their lives.

Unfortunately, we don’t know much about why people develop Parkinson’s Disease. Studies indicate it may be hereditary, but family members’ occurrence isn’t consistent enough to prove this true. Some environmental triggers have been cited, but the risk of developing PD due to exposure to these is still low. Stress, particularly life events that can be traumatic, can also cause PD.

Specific motor deficits need to be present for an official diagnosis of PD. However, there are more subtle signs that can occur years before. Below are some of the most common ones:

  1. REM behavior disorder (RBD) – This is a newly developed, sudden movement during sleep. Specifically during the REM cycle of sleep. Often described as “acting out dreams,” this symptom may go unnoticed by the person exhibiting the behavior. A spouse or partner who is woken up frequently by sudden jerks or kicks may be the person who first notices that there’s an issue at all. While RBD doesn’t mean that PD is present, those who experience it (with no known cause) are at higher risk of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in the future.
  2. Loss of sense of smell (anosmia) – Losing your sense of smell (when there is no other discernable cause) can be an early predictor of a PD diagnosis down the road. When related to PD, anosmia happens when the protein that leads to Parkinson’s Disease accumulates in the part of the brain that is responsible for the sense of smell. It’s important to note that losing your sense of smell does not mean you will be diagnosed with PD. However, for those that experience this, there is a 50% chance they will be diagnosed in the next five to ten years.
  3. Voice changes – If there is a noticeable and new change in your voice’s softness or volume (with no other cause), this can be an early PD symptom.
  4. Stiffness or difficulty moving – one of the early signs that something may be going on is a new stiffness with movements. Noticing that your arms don’t swing the same way they used to may indicate that something is going on.
  5. Digestive issues – A myriad of things, including diet, medications, and other conditions, can cause digestive problems. However, new and ongoing constipation and a feeling of being full even after eating small meals can be an early indicator of Parkinson’s Disease.
  6. Changes in handwriting (micrographia) – This may seem like an odd symptom. Still, if you notice that your writing has become smaller or crowded together, it may be an early sign of Parkinson’s Disease.
  7. Lack of facial expression (facial masking) – This one may be pointed out to you by others. Others may tell you that your face is “serious” or that you look like you’re in a bad mood. It’s important to note that some medications can cause this. However, if you’re experiencing new facial masking with no known cause, it is worth speaking with your doctor.
  8. Stooping or hunching over – this is a symptom that is commonly associated with PD. If you’ve noticed a difference in your posture, it may be an early symptom of Parkinson’s Disease.

If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should expect to live with Parkinson’s later in life.

Most of the above symptoms can be due to other conditions, lifestyle habits, and certain medications. If you are noticing some changes in these areas of your life and there doesn’t seem to be an apparent reason why it can be a cause for concern. Fortunately, there is information about managing the symptoms and even slow the progression of Parkinson’s Disease.

It’s common knowledge that diet and exercise are crucial to health and good quality of life. This is particularly true with this disease. Staying active with regular exercise has been shown to slow the progression of PD. Most of us are aware that exercise is beneficial for the physical detriments caused by Parkinson’s (muscle weakness, stiffness, falls).

Studies done have shown that exercise works on a neurologic level as well.

Regular exercise won’t replace or repair degenerating neurons. It can, however, encourage the brain to use what dopamine it does produce more productively. The human brain is always adapting and evolving as it needs to function most efficiently. This adaptive behavior is called neuroplasticity. When observed in Parkinson’s patients, researchers theorize that the neuroplasticity benefits gained through regular physical activity outweigh the disease’s degenerative effects.

If you do find yourself exhibiting any of the early symptoms of PD, it’s important to remember that you do have a measure of control.

First, speak with your doctor about your concerns. They will help you determine if Parkinson’s may impact you personally in the future. If this is the case, do what you can now. Maintain a healthy diet that’s rich in lean protein, whole foods, and fiber. Stay hydrated. Generally, it would be best if you drank half your body weight in ounces of water each day. If you don’t already have one, start a regular exercise routine, and be consistent with it. And do what you can to mitigate and address the stress you have in your life.

A Place At Home has compassionate and professional caregivers available 24 hours a day. If Parkinson’s is impacting your life, reach out to us. We are honored to help.

When To See A Doctor: Parkinson’s Disease

April is National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month and we realize that many of our readers, or their loved ones, are affected by the disease.

PD (Parkinson’s disease) is typically not diagnosed until age 50 or older and is currently incurable, but not fatal. However, its complications, like pneumonia, can be life-threatening. This makes an early diagnosis, close medical monitoring, and supportive senior care crucial for those with PD. Please review these important facts about PD and learn how to recognize early signs.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

PD is a neurodegenerative disorder, causing gradual nerve cell deterioration in the brain region known as the substantia nigra, over a period of many years. The brain cells affected are dopamine-producing neurons. The neurotransmitter, dopamine, helps coordinate body movement— turning thoughts about moving into active motion. Dopamine also regulates emotional responses, helps you to pay attention, learn, and more. Parkinson’s is 50 percent more common in men and the cause of the disease is currently unknown.

When to See a Doctor: Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms

Parkinson’s symptoms vary from person to person and progress at different rates. If you notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, see your doctor for an exam. The symptoms can be caused by other medical conditions, so you must see a doctor for a diagnosis. Doing so quickly will help you maintain good health and reduce stress (on you as the patient, and your loved ones).

No matter what the cause of your symptoms may beearly diagnosis provides the very best chance for successful treatment and a bright future. Most people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed after age 50. As individuals age, PD can lead to PDD (Parkinson’s Disease Dementia)

PD symptoms may include increased levels of:

  • Tremors in hands and other body areas
  • Arm and/or leg stiffness
  • Slowed movements, known as Bradykinesia
  • Balance problems, difficulty walking

Early PD signs to watch for, especially if these are new or have no reasonable explanation:

  • Poor posture, sitting or standing stooped over
  • Sad or blank expression on the face
  • Horse or quiet voice
  • Poor sense of smell
  • Difficulty moving, stiffness
  • Micrographia, small or crowded handwriting
  • Sleep problems
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness

Living with PD

To maintain the highest possible quality of life, individuals living with Parkinson’s disease must be regularly monitored by their physician, usually a neurologist. Physical therapy is commonly prescribed early on— and regular exercise is known to delay worsening of symptoms. There are a number of medications used to help manage PD.

For the best prognosis, patients should have the understanding and support of family members and/or caregivers, as needed, so that they can overcome the challenges of Parkinson’s disease. 

The actor Michael J. Fox is a well-known individual living with Parkinson’s, (diagnosed early, at age 30), and Alan Alda recently revealed he has PD, diagnosed about four years ago, at age 78. Both provide examples of, and valuable insight about, living well with PD.

How Common is Parkinson’s Disease? states that approximately one million people will be living with PD by 2020, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed annually. The aging population with Parkinson’s is creating an increasing need for senior care options and supportive services. Medical research is ongoing–to find better medications and treatments to counter symptoms, and potentially discover a cure for PD. The NIH (National Institutes of Health) has published an outline of promising Parkinson’s research in progress. 

We’re Here to Help

For seniors living with Parkinson’s disease, and their loved ones, A Place at Homeprovides customized in-home senior care options. Contact us for more information.