Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disease, where patients experience worsening cognitive, physical and psychological symptoms. Early symptoms are difficult to notice, especially in older patients who conclude the symptoms are part of the aging process.

Parkinson’s does affect young people as well, and is called Young-Onset Parkinson’s Disease (YOPD). It is often underdiagnosed because of the general consensus that “young people can’t get Parkinson’s”. A well-known example of YOPD to refer is the famous American actor turned film director, Michal J. Fox, who was diagnosed with YOPD in 1991 at the age of 29.

Not to be confused with Alzheimer’s disease which causes the degeneration of brain cells and leads to dementia, Parkinson’s is primarily defined as a movement disorder where the amount of the hormone and neurotransmitter, dopamine, in the brain is gradually reduced, leading to a lack of control in motor or movement functions. Dopamine despatches brain signals (or instructions) that control movement to the rest of the body.

Left untreated and allowed to progress, Parkinson’s patients experience a decrease in their motor skills which are followed by cognitive impairments.

The first common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, regardless of age, are motor symptoms to look out for, which can include:

  • Bradykinesia – obvious signs of slowed movements
  • rigidity or stiffness
  • tremors or shaky movements even though the muscles in the affected area are relaxed
  • lack of balance when moving
  • stooped posture, i.e., person’s head or body bends forwards and downwards

The Faculty of Physical Therapy in Mahidol University, Thailand, has discovered a form of therapy which has been found to help Parkinson’s patients as well as stroke patients improve their motor skills, enabling them to carry out important daily tasks.

Dean of the Faculty of Physical Therapy, Associate Professor Jarugool Tretriluxana, reported that patients in their studies who were given a 20-minute brain stimulation session followed by 60-90 minutes of special therapy, were able to use their hands and arms for simple but essential movements such as lifting, reaching for and grasping objects.

The Faculty of Physical Therapy provides rehabilitation sessions to Parkinson’s disease patients as well as patients recovering from strokes, and is the first in the Southeast Asian region to use a combination of brain stimulation and physical therapy to help patients in these two groups improve their motor skills.

In the brain stimulation therapy, a pulse generator connected to 1 or 2 fine wires inserted to targeted locations of the brain, is placed under the skin around the chest or stomach area. When the power is turned on, the electrodes deliver high frequency stimulation to the targeted areas, which change some of the brain’s electrical signals associated with symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Associate Professor Jarugool said, “After this rehabilitation session, stroke and Parkinson’s disease patients can use their hands and arms for tasks like eating, drinking, buttoning their shirts and tying their shoelaces.”

With promising results seen thus far, Associate Professor Jarugool said the faculty has plans to extend this method of treatment to autistic children who have problems related to fine motor skills, as there is a possibility it may help improve their motor, emotional and communications skills.

Associate Professor Jarugool said, “Physical therapists differ from other healthcare personnel in that they are movement specialists and innovators. Our work is to find ways to help patients achieve the best possible quality of life and reduce costs of healthcare.”

Mahidol University’s Faculty of Physical Therapy will share and make available details of their therapy methods with similar regional faculties.

By Aaron
25th July 14:00 2020

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