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Walking and balance can significantly impact quality of life- but is treatable.

Wednesday May 16, 2012

Movement symptoms such as tremor, rigidity and slowness are the hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Yet research confirms that these movement problems are not the main contributors to decline in life quality with disease progression. Trouble with balance and falls are a primary motor problem that occurs later in disease and correlates with a change in life quality. Fortunately early and aggressive Physical therapy and balance exercises can make a difference- whether started early before there is a problem or later after falls occur. The Wellness Center highlights additional information about the role of PT and exercise to improve balance and reduce falls.

Follow these helpful hints:

  • See a physical therapy early before you have balance problems to improve your balance and before starting any exercise routine.
  • Advocate for yourself and ask your doctor for a referral if you think you would benefit from PT.
  • Occupational therapy can help reduce fall risk, offer tips and suggestions to improve your home and community safety by reducing risk of falls
  • Remember fatigue and reduced stamina will also increase your chance of falling.  Aerobic (cardio) exercise will improve stamina. Get professional advice from your doctor or PT before starting a program.
  • Stay hydrated.  Low blood pressure from dehydration can lead to dizziness, unsteadiness, fatigue, weakness and confusion- all potential problems that can affect walking.
  • The best exercise is often the one that mimics what you want to do- walking and balance.  If you can, walk, run, dance, play standing computer games such as the Wii, play tennis or other balance supports.
  • Music and a metronome can help you time your gait to a beat.
  • Freezing of gait can improve with queing strategies.
  • Walking, trekking or hiking poles help with balance.
  • Sometimes a walker or cane is needed for balance. This is a positive change not a negative one if this keeps you walking and keeps you safe.
  • Multitasking or doing two things at once can worsen balance problems.  Try to avoid distractions when possible and focus on the task at hand.
  • Yoga and Tai chi can help balance and posture.

Learn more about walking and balance at the Wellness Center.

Monique L. Giroux, MDMonique L. Giroux, MD
Medical Director, Northwest Parkinson's Foundation

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