Many people who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease believe physiotherapy, in addition to drug therapy, is beneficial in helping them improve their quality of life, according to a survey by the Parkinson’s Disease Society.

Parkinson’s is a debilitating and progressive neurological condition, causing motor and non-motor problems due to brain dysfunction, leading to decreased production of chemical messengers, in particular the neurotransmitter dopamine. The three main physical symptoms are slowness, rigidity and tremor. People who have Parkinson’s are prone to falling, loss of independence and confidence, and a reduced quality of life.

The study, Life with Parkinson’s Today, by the Parkinson’s Disease Society, concluded drug therapy and brain stimulation could provide partial relief of the symptoms. However, many people required additional support, including physiotherapy, rated as a “top priority” by those taking part in the survey.

The benefits of physiotherapy have been researched in terms of physical and quality of life improvements, identified through periodic reviews. The two main components of physiotherapy specific to Parkinson’s are exercise and movement training.

During the early stages of the treatment, physiotherapists encourage education and self-management of the condition, using leisure and general fitness programmes that promote inclusion in community activity. They have found that physiotherapy-specific exercise offsets the effects of Parkinson’s, minimising deterioration in strength, flexibility, endurance and balance. The physiotherapy techniques focus on improving patients’ quality of movement in their daily life though walking training, improving balance, reducing falls and practising manual activities such as reaching and grasping. Other issues such as pain and respiratory function may require drug therapy.

As the Parkinson’s progresses, physiotherapists alter the techniques to help patients overcome difficulties in generating movement, including developing a strategy to compensate for loss of function.

Statistics show Parkinson’s is the second most common neurological condition in the UK, with 127,000 people currently diagnosed. With an ageing population, these numbers are set to double by 2030.

Although diagnosis is usually in the over-55s, the condition is increasingly being diagnosed in younger people. One in 500 people are affected, with the prevalence increasing with age. In the over-60s age group, 1.4% are likely to develop Parkinson’s, while in patients over 85 years old, the likelihood increases to 4.3%. Cases of Parkinson’s are 1.5 times higher among males than females.

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