Parkinson’s disease (PD) is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases, and it’s largely associated with the progressive loss of motor control. According to a write-up from the Parkinson’s Foundation, around 60,000 new cases of this mysterious and difficult condition are diagnosed each year in the US alone; PD affects an estimated one million Americans and 10 million people worldwide. And with no existing cure for the condition, PD can trigger a number of devastating effects in the body. For many doctors and researchers, it’s necessary to find innovative, creative treatments for PD such as aquatic therapy.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects the central nervous system. As we discussed in our 'Occupational Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease' article, PD is characterized by a progressive decline in flexibility, fluidity, speed, and coordination of fine and gross motor functions in the body. Symptoms like tremors, slow movements, loss of coordination, stiffness in the arms, legs, or trunk, and trouble with balance tend to get worse over time. And because of the pain and discomfort, many patients develop non-motor symptoms like depression as well.
Often, PD occurs in people over the age of 60. Age, heredity, exposure to toxins, and sex (men are more likely to get PD) are linked to the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. While there is currently still no cure for Parkinson’s, there are multiple treatment paths a physician can recommend, depending on a patient’s preference and how advanced the condition is.
In the earlier stages, medication and lifestyle changes alleviate the symptoms. Patients may undergo physical therapy, aerobic conditioning, balance exercises, and speech pathology. When PD progresses and becomes more severe, surgery can also be prescribed. This is only done as a last resort, however, like when the medications lose effectiveness over time and patients no longer respond to them.
How Can Aquatic Therapy Help?
It’s difficult to diagnose PD accurately because the loss of dopamine-producing cells can also occur in other rare neurological conditions. In March 2021, however, scientists from the University of Manchester published their findings on a painless skin swab test which would allow physicians to identify Parkinson’s disease much earlier. Of course, patients who suspect early-onset PD may immediately begin therapies and exercises that help them improve their balance, increase mobility, and reduce motor dysfunction.
Aquatic therapy is one such treatment. Exercising in water is known to help people who have joint issues like arthritis, but it can also be effective on patients with neurological conditions. When patients perform exercises in warm water — usually in an adjustable-floor therapy pool with underwater treadmills — the warmth can reduce rigidity, stiffness, and pain. The buoyancy in water also helps people who lack postural support, because it requires less effort to move in water. This allows them to perform different range-of-motion and strengthening exercises, which they may not be able to do on land.
Before starting aquatic therapy, healthcare professionals need to assess the patient to see if the program is appropriate for their specific needs. Fortunately, robust online programs offer health professionals additional training to upskill in this field. As highlighted by Maryville University’s online post-master’s nurse practitioner program, NPs can now focus on gerontology, where they are trained to provide care to older patients. They can create a personalized care plan, and modify the one-on-one exercises, which can include aquatic therapy, as a patient’s needs change. Older adults particularly need specialized care because there can be several aging-associated diseases, such as PD.
Overall, aquatic therapy is effective for PD patients. A study on the ‘Comparison of Aquatic Therapy vs. Dry Land Therapy to Improve Mobility of Chronic Stroke Patients’ found that aquatic therapy can help improve pain, dynamic balance, functional ability, and gait speed in patients with Parkinson’s disease, which can improve their quality of life.
For more information on aquatic therapy and other rehabilitative treatments in Georgetown, Texas, call All Care Therapies today.
Written by Patricia Aldridge for allcaretherapygt.com