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Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy to Support Patients with Parkinson's Disease

Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Improve The Quality of Life for People with Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement, balance, speech, and cognition. According to the Parkinson's Foundation, about one million Americans live with PD, and more than 10 million people worldwide are diagnosed with it.

While there is no cure for PD, physical therapist and occupational therapists can help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life, including:

  • Maintain or improve their mobility, strength, flexibility, and balance
  • Reduce their risk of falls and injuries
  • Enhance their confidence and independence in daily activities
  • Learn strategies to cope with the challenges of living with PD

Physical therapists and occupational therapists are experts in movement and function. They use exercise and hands-on techniques to improve strength, coordination and range of motion. Physical therapists also use exercise and activities to challenge and improve the balance of people with Parkinson's Disease. In addition, occupational therapists provide education, guidance, and support for people with PD and their caregivers. 

Therapy for people with Parkinson's Disease is heavily researched and has been shown to be an effective intervention. One meta-study (a study that combines the results of many other studies) that covered 1827 participants found that when compared to no intervention, PT significantly improved:

  • Gait Speed
  • Two- and Six-minute Walk Test Scores
  • Freezing of Gait questionnaire
  • The Timed Up & Go test
  • Functional Reach Test
  • Berg Balance Scale

These results indicate improvements in mobility, endurance, strength, and balance. Gait speed is an especially important measurement. Physical therapists often consider gait speed a "vital sign." This is because low gait speed has been linked to:

  • Declines in functional mobility
  • Higher rates of hospitalization
  • Higher fall rates
  • Cognitive decline
  • Increased disability
  • Higher risk of death

 A larger meta study that included 191 studies with 7998 participants found that physical therapist care significantly improved motor symptoms, gait, and quality of life. Specifically:

  • Resistance and treadmill training improved gait
  • Strategy training improved balance and gait
  • Dance, Nordic walking, balance and gait training, and martial arts improved motor symptoms, balance, and gait

Therapy can be beneficial at any stage of PD, from the time of diagnosis to the advanced stages. It is a valuable treatment option for people with PD, as it can help to improve or maintain their physical function, mobility, and independence. Physical therapist and occupational therapist care can also enhance their quality of life, confidence, and well-being.