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Parkinson’s and Aquatic Therapy

aquatic therapy for parkinsons patients

Parkinson’s disease is a uniquely difficult condition faced by many throughout the US. A great deal of mystery surrounds the illness, which can have devastating effects on the body. It doesn’t strike based on financial status, race or gender, and it has affected many famous figures, including Janet Reno, Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali, David Phinney and Robin Williams.

Despite the high profile of Parkinson’s disease among celebrities, political figures and athletes, there is not yet a cure for Parkinson’s. Research continues on this condition in hopes it will someday be a distant memory.

Until that day arrives, it’s important for clinicians to consider innovative and creative ways to treat Parkinson’s disease and the many symptoms associated with the condition. And this includes using aquatic therapy for Parkinson’s patients.

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What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease affecting patients’ central nervous systems. Approximately 1 million people in the United States live with Parkinson’s disease, with between 50,000 to 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year. There is no cure for this condition, and its complications make it the 14th leading cause of death for people living in the United States.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke classifies Parkinson’s disease as a motor system disorder. The condition happens as a result of a loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Physicians use neurological examinations and medical history to diagnosis the disease.

parkinsons disease neurological condition

While there are some notable exceptions, Parkinson’s disease primarily affects people over the age of 60. The cause of Parkinson’s disease remains a mystery. The consensus, at this time, is Parkinson’s results from a combination of both environmental and genetic factors, though these are all listed as risk factors:

  • Age
  • Heredity
  • Gender — men are more likely than women to develop Parkinson’s
  • Exposure to toxins

Symptoms of Parkinson’s

The first step in understanding the benefits of aquatic therapy for Parkinson’s patients is to know about its symptoms. Parkinson’s is a progressive illness, with symptoms worsening over time. In the beginning, a slight tremor in the hands or legs may be the only visible symptoms.

In more advanced stages, patients may notice some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Trembling in hands, feet, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Stiffness of limbs and trunk
  • Slowness of movement
  • Postural instability
  • Falls
  • Impaired balance
  • Gait problems
  • Loss of coordination

These symptoms may progressively worsen during later stages of the disease, making it difficult for patients to perform both simple and complex tasks, including:

  • Walking
  • Talking
  • Chewing
  • Swallowing
  • Dressing
  • Grooming

Because the illness produces potentially severe repercussions, depression is a common co-existing condition among Parkinson’s patients, with more than half of Parkinson’s disease patients also suffering from clinical depression. Other conditions, such as sleep disruptions, skin problems, constipation and urinary problems, often occur in combination with Parkinson’s disease.

These issues are considered non-movement symptoms and include things like:

  • Fatigue
  • Irregular blood pressure
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Smell dysfunction
  • Sudden drops in blood pressure when standing
  • Slower movement of food through the digestive tract

When looking for new treatments or alternatives to traditional treatments, consider the full scope of the condition and its broad range of symptoms.

Traditional Treatment for Parkinson’s Patients

When prescribing treatment for patients living with Parkinson’s disease, physicians, physical therapists and other health care professionals have multiple paths to consider. Treatments may vary according to how far advanced the condition is and patient preferences.

During early stages of the disease, doctors may prescribe medications and lifestyle changes. Physicians often recommend essential way-of-life alterations, including adjustments impacting the physical health and conditioning of patients.

treatment for parkinsons disease

A doctor may suggest things like physical therapy, aerobic conditioning and exercises promoting balance and stretching. Occupational therapists may also suggest speech pathology as one of the recommended treatments for Parkinson’s once speech problems begin to develop.

Medications for Parkinson’s Disease

Physicians treat many Parkinson’s patients with a variety of drugs. These medications help patients contend with problems related to walking, movement and the tremors associated with the condition. The American Parkinson’s Disease Association has more information on approved medication for Parkinson’s patients.

Surgery for Parkinson’s

Some Parkinson’s patients may benefit from surgery. While not recommended at early stages of the disease, patients who are no longer responding well to medications may be advised by their physician to consider the surgical alternative of deep brain stimulation. Here, electrodes stimulate specific parts of the brain in a manner that reduces the movement-related symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Effectiveness of Traditional Parkinson’s Treatments

The problem with many pharmaceutical treatments currently being used to treat Parkinson’s disease is they can lose effectiveness over time. Combined with the side effects of many medications on the market today, a lack of effective drug treatments has patients seeking alternatives to these medications — or at least new ways to reduce the dosages of medications they must take.

Treating Parkinson’s Disease With Aquatic Therapy

Physical therapy and exercise regimens, like hydrotherapy, are quickly becoming prominent methods for treating a variety of illnesses, including neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s. Hydrotherapy adds specific advantages for many Parkinson’s patients.  As someone who owns or manages a physical therapy clinic, you can introduce aquatics for your existing Parkinson’s patients. It may even help you attract new Parkinson’s patients to your facility.

After Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurological condition American adults face. Physicians often treat the disorder with heavy medications, which potentially yield unintended or unwanted side effects.

You may be wondering, “Is aquatic therapy effective for Parkinson’s?” Hydrotherapy offers an alternative form of treatment which can be used in combination with drug therapies to produce improved results.

Aquatic therapy has been used to help people like Virginia Bishop, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease as well as multiple sclerosis. She used aquatic sessions to increase her activity levels, improve core strength and build stamina. Her results included regaining the ability to tend to daily tasks, as well as play the piano.

How Aquatic Therapy Helps Manage Parkinson’s Symptoms

hydrotherapy for Parkinsons patients

Hydrotherapy treats a wide range of illnesses and orthopedic or chronic disorders. Among them are many conditions related to strength and balance. While aquatic exercise for Parkinson’s disease does not reduce all risks of falls — which is a key concern among many Parkinson’s patients — it can be beneficial by strengthening the core and improving muscle memory.

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Parkinson’s Symptoms Managed Using Aquatic Therapy

Independence is a constant concern among Parkinson’s patients and their family members, especially as the disease progresses. So they can maintain their independence longer, aquatic therapy specifically assists patients in the following:

  • Maintaining or regaining strength
  • Building balance
  • Enhancing posture
  • Improving flexibility
  • Increasing body control
  • Reducing rigidity
  • Increasing acceptance of physical activity

For Parkinson’s patients, aquatic therapy can mitigate the above key concerns so patients can maintain or regain their independence.

parkinsons aquatic therapy benefits

Is aquatic therapy safe for Parkinson’s? Warm-water therapies — with temperatures between 90 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit — offer patients the opportunity to work out in a protected environment, offering them reduced rigidity and increased body control. The other benefit of warm-water therapies for Parkinson’s patients is a reduction of shivering compared to cold water treatments along with a reduction of pain, which makes exercising more pleasurable.

One study discovered Parkinson’s patients experienced significant improvements in postural stability as a result of aquatic therapy. A separate study, conducted in 2012, found patients who participated in aquatics enjoyed improvements in:

  • Gait
  • Hip angles
  • Stride length
  • Speed

In the case of Parkinson’s sufferer Lila D. Lecy, incorporating aquatic underwater treadmill exercise as part of her treatment proved tremendously helpful, allowing her to remain independent as long as possible. She believes it was the combination of aquatics, coupled with a knowledgeable physical therapist, to help her build the strength and posture to walk on dry ground — wearing heels, no less.

Because aquatic therapy is exercise, it can help delay the progression of many symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and may be instrumental in reducing the severity of symptoms patients currently experience. Aquatic therapy helps patients maintain a greater quality of life and longer health while living with Parkinson’s.

Add Aqua Therapy to Your Parkinson’s Patients’ Treatment

HydroWorx offers a variety of products specifically designed to help facilities, just like yours, bring the benefits of aqua therapy to Parkinson’s patients — and many others. We can work with you to identify your patients’ needs to determine the ideal hydrotherapy solution from our versatile family of products.

Not only can we help you identify the best possible equipment for your facility needs, but also unique and creative ways to integrate aquatics into your Parkinson’s patients’ current treatment routines.  When you have the equipment onsite, it becomes simpler to make adjustments, especially when you take advantage of features enhancing the experience — like adjustable-floor therapy pools and variable-speed underwater treadmills.

The use of aquatic therapy, underwater treadmills and resistance jet technology for Parkinson’s patients can do the following and more:

  • Help regain trunk balance
  • Improve proprioception
  • Promote mobility
  • Improve ambulation
  • Encourage confidence

All of the above are critical when encouraging Parkinson’s patients to exercise for their health and to reduce the severity of their symptoms.

Aquatics offers a full range of exercises patients can do without a fear of falling to hold them back. Whether you’re working with Parkinson’s patients, Alzheimer’s patients or patients with a host of other physical and neurological conditions, hydrotherapy can be an effective tool for promoting overall physical fitness and good health.

As an added benefit, group classes can offer socialization opportunities for aging adults or people with mobility difficulties related to chronic illnesses who have little interaction with others.

Parkinson’s Hydrotherapy Solutions from HydroWorx

HydroWorx offers an entire family of products designed to help your facility present aquatics solutions to Parkinson’s patients. The HydroWorx 2000 offers resistance jet technology, moveable floor and an underwater treadmill for a variety of therapy considerations. Other HydroWorx products you may be interested in include:

Contact us today at 800-753-9633 or request a product info kit here to learn more about our innovative family of offerings or specific HydroWorx solutions that may interest you. You’ll learn more about the ideal products to meet your facility’s hydrotherapy needs so you can offer the advanced treatment capabilities hydrotherapy represents.

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Page Updated on: November 23, 2020