By Carrie Vittitoe
If you have a friend or family member who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), you may feel at a loss for the best ways to help. Although a PD diagnosis is understandably scary, individuals with PD can still have active and fulfilling lives. Here are five ways to help calm Parkinson’s:
“The mainstay of the treatments is a medication called Carbidopa-Levodopa,” says Dr. Kathrin LaFaver, neurologist and director of the Parkinson’s Movement Disorder Clinic at UofL Physicians. “It is essentially giving [patients] the precursor to dopamine, and it really helps them. In general, it is well tolerated, but high doses can contribute to fatigue or hallucinations.” Patients often take a pill three or four times a day.
Dopamine agonists are another type of medication that may be prescribed to Parkinson’s patients. While any medication can have side effects, dopamine agonists may increase the likelihood that patients develop addictive behaviors such as hypersexuality, gambling, and compulsive shopping. Dopamine is a precursor to adrenaline, and it is naturally released by the body when people experience excitement or pleasure. Dr. LaFaver says doctors warn their patients to monitor for these potential behavioral side effects.
“The purpose of brain stimulation surgery (deep brain stimulation) is essentially having a pacemaker for the brain,” Dr. LaFaver says. “It can be very helpful for the treatment of tremor, as well as stiffness and slowness symptoms.” DBS is often an option for patients who are not responding well to medication. Electrodes are implanted in the basal ganglia section of the brain, and a battery is placed under the skin of the chest. The electrodes provide stimulation to the brain area and often improve quality of life.
Activity as a form of treatment:
Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) Big and Loud are two treatment protocols for helping patients improve their movement and speech. “Patients are coached to make their movements and voice bigger than they would ordinarily,” Dr. LaFaver says. Dancing and other forms of rhythmic activity can help to retrain the brain. The YMCA has partnered with the Movement Disorders Clinic to offer Pedaling for Parkinson’s. Based on research out of the Cleveland Clinic, Parkinson’s patients ride stationary bikes with the goal of increasing their revolutions per minute (rpms) to reduce symptoms.
Team Approach to Parkinson’s Care:
It can often be helpful for Parkinson’s patients to seek care at a movement disorder clinic because “you have very easy access to multidisciplinary teams,” Dr. LaFaver says. Parkinson’s disease can have symptoms that affect more than just movement, such as depression, anxiety, constipation, bladder urgency, and insomnia.
The University of Louisville is in its fourth year of offering the PD Buddy Program in conjunction with the Parkinson Support Center of Kentuckiana. The Buddy Program places first-year medical students with Parkinson’s patients. They meet socially to develop a relationship and to help the students learn what Parkinson’s is like. “It’s been a good way to get medical students interested in the field. For patients, it’s been a great way to share their stories and for them to feel they help educate our students,” Dr. LaFaver says.