Finding new ways to treat Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is classified as a disease of the nervous system. Worldwide, Parkinson’s disease affects approximately 10 million people. In Australia, Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurological disease, with 70 000 people diagnosed.

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Parkinson’s disease

Occurring predominantly in individuals aged 65 years and up, it is a progressive disorder largely affecting movement. The main symptoms include a tremor at rest, muscle stiffness and reduced control over voluntary movement. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease walk with a characteristic shuffle, finding movement difficult to start and once moving, difficult to change direction or stop.

Parkinson’s disease does not only affect and individual’s movement. Non-motor symptoms can include depression, pain and problems with memory and sleep. Symptoms and the rate of disease progression vary greatly between individuals.

The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are a result of reduced activity of cells that secrete dopamine in the region of the brain involved with a variety of functions including movement, attention and learning.

Treatments for Parkinson’s disease

Currently, there is no cure available for Parkinson’s disease. There are however medications available primarily target the dopaminergic system in the brain to lessen the severity of the symptoms.

My granddad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few years ago and it has taken a noticeable toll on his day to day life. We know that the treatments are effective but as the disease progresses, the effectiveness gradually declines.

Additionally, medications are not enough to adequately manage problems with posture and balance so we are always looking for other approaches to treat Parkinson’s disease.

There is evidence supporting the benefits of physical activity on posture, balance and overall quality of life. From this, four recommendations were developed for designing exercise programs for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. The recommendations include:

  1. Strategies to prompt the improvement of patterns of movement
  2. Approaches to improve movement mentally
  3. Exercises which focus on improving balance, and
  4. Improve physical capacity by increasing joint mobility and muscle power

Dance as a treatment

Dance may address all of the recommendations: it is performed to music which serves as a cue to facilitate movement; it involves teaching movement strategies; it improves balance; and can improve strength and flexibility.

The evidence available for using dance in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease is promising. A small randomised control trial found dance improves balance and functional mobility, and may have modest benefits upon cognition and fatigue in Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, a review of the evidence available found that dance may be helpful for some people with Parkinson’s disease, improving balance, motor impairment and endurance.

The effect of dance in individuals in the severe stage of the disease still needs to be investigated. Additionally, studies with larger sample sizes and studies with a longer duration need to be conducted in order to confirm the benefits of dance in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease found in the smaller trials.





One Response to “Finding new ways to treat Parkinson’s disease”

  1. Will says:

    Very interesting. I saw an article a few weeks back ('s-disease-trial-injects-stem-cells-into-brain/7844674), announcing that stem cells had been inserted into a Parkinson’s disease sufferer’s brain for the first time, with the hope that it would boost dopamine levels.