Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressive neurological condition that affects both men and women equally. About 8,000 Albertans live with Parkinson’s and while the average age of diagnosis is 60, about 10 per cent are diagnosed before they are 40. Parkinson’s affects the midbrain which controls blood pressure, bowel function and movements required for eating, walking, writing, and dressing.

Early signs include changes in walking or writing (i.e., shorter steps, reduced arm swing or smaller handwriting). Other symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, depression, short-term memory loss, sleep disruptions, difficulty chewing or swallowing, changes in quality of voice, changes in bladder function, and constipation. There is no diagnostic test for Parkinson’s and often diagnosis is made when the patient exhibits several of these symptoms:

  • Slowness of movement
  • Stiffness of muscles
  • Resting tremors
  • Changes in balance and posture

Causes of Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s is caused by the progressive deterioration of dopamine producing brain cells. Dopamine is an important chemical (neurotransmitter) that helps brain cells send signals to each other. Symptoms usually appear when more than 50% of dopamine producing cells are lost. Why the cells deteriorate is unknown. Researchers suggest a combination of genetic and environmental factors play a role. As yet, there is no cure.

How physiotherapists help

Physiotherapists help manage Parkinson’s from initial diagnosis through to the later stages. They can assess how the condition has affected your balance and overall ability to walk and move as well as develop and teach strategies to retain balance and coordination as long as possible.

Your physiotherapist will:

Early on, your physiotherapist will focus on strategies to maintain or improve physical functioning and prevent falls. Individual or group programs for muscle strengthening and stretching, cardiovascular exercise, postural control, and balance training are all key to maintaining physical independence.

As Parkinson’s progress, more individualized treatment may be required to help you stay mobile. Interventions can include: walking retraining, walking aids (canes/walkers), strategies to manage freezing (the inability to get moving), and muscle strengthening and flexibility exercises. Physiotherapists can also teach you strategies to get up from a chair, on-and off a toilet and in-and-out of bed, home safety assessments, modified or assisted limb and trunk strengthening, and flexibility exercises.

In late stage Parkinson’s, physiotherapy can help to reduce complications such as muscle contractures, loss of range of motion and pressure sores as well as teach safe lifting techniques for caregivers.

Find a physiotherapist to help you manage the affects of Parkinson's.