If you’ve never considered adding seniors to your clientele pool, you should. Personally, I feel it’s very satisfying to see an aging client’s quality of life change and significantly improve. Studies show that it’s never too late to begin to add physical activity to your life.
While not exclusively an aging disease, Parkinson’s Disease (PD) does tend to affect more aging folks than younger ones. According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, aging is one risk factor of PD, with people over the age of 60 having a two to four percent risk of having PD, compared to one to two percent in the general population.
PD is caused when neurons in the base of the brain (substantia nigra) die. This is the part of the brain that produces dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for transmitting signals from the substantia nigra to another part of the brain called the corpus striatum. This in turn produces smooth, meaningful movement. When dopamine decreases, it causes abnormal firing patterns in the brain, which impairs movement. Some symptoms of PD include:
- Tremors (a rhythmic back-and-forth movement, typically involving thumb and forefinger)
- Rigidity (resistance to movement)
- Bradykinesia (slower movements)
- Postural Instability (impaired balance)
Research has shown that exercise can have neuroprotective benefits for people with PD. Some of these benefits include:
- Improved gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination
- A possible slowing of disease progression
Studies so far have shown that these benefits are probably coming from the brain cells using dopamine more efficiently.
So what types of exercises are best for people with PD?
It partly depends on the stage of the disease. If they are in the earlier stages, more vigorous exercise is recommended. Even in aging people without PD, studies have shown that vigorous exercise slows the aging process, possibly by lengthening the telomeres, so if you have healthy older clients, encourage higher intensity exercise for some of the sessions.
According to the National Parkinson Foundation, even though higher intensity work will yield greater benefits, any exercise is better than none and consistency is an important factor, as well. People with PD who participated in exercise programs that ran longer than six months, regardless of exercise intensity, showed significant gains in functional balance and mobility, compared to those who did just two- or ten-week programs.
There’s even a boxing program called Rock Steady Boxing that is specifically for people with PD. They have programs across the country.
As with any client, find activities your PD clients enjoy doing and will be consistent with. Try to include all the areas of fitness: strength, endurance, balance, coordination, and flexibility. Cardio, including walking, bicycling or hiking, strength training, balance training and stretching are all examples of workouts PD clients can benefit from.
PD can also exist in conjunction with Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). Lewy body proteins are found in the same area of the brain that PD is found; these proteins deplete dopamine. LBD can be a stand-alone disease or come along with PD or Alzheimer’s Disease. Even if a person doesn’t have PD, they will exhibit what’s called Parkinsonian symptoms with LBD.
As PD progresses, the person may no longer be able to perform more vigorous exercise and may even end up in a wheel chair. This is no reason to stop exercising! At this point, especially if LBD is present, it is important to establish an exercise routine that is consistent so that it becomes habitual and more established in the brain. In working with clients at this level, I’ve also found that it’s important to challenge the brain with exercises that use both sides of the brain. For example:
- holding a small ball in one hand, have the client open his arms wide at shoulder-height.
- Next, still at shoulder-height, have him move his arms together.
- When his hands are together (at the body’s midpoint), have him place the ball into his other hand and repeat the sequence.
- This can also be done with arms at diagonals.
If you’re thinking of adding a specialty niche to your line-up of services, PD is a good place to start, as there are fewer restrictions compared to some of the other neuromuscular diseases. It’s difficult to place a value on knowing that you are helping someone maintain a quality of life through the disease progression.
This article is by Carrie Myers . The author’s opinions are their own and Gear Update does not take responsibility for content statements and opinions. You should seek expert counsel in evaluating opinions, treatments, products and services. For more info see our Editorial Policies.