Being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is unquestionably difficult, as the disease progressively attacks one of our most precious life functions: movement. Fortunately, as the Michael J. Foxx association notes, “Most people find acceptance and quality of life after the initial adjustment period,” which can include coming to terms with the eventual modification or total loss of certain physical activities. 

However, a growing sector of the PD community is finding solace in innovative, personalized forms of physical therapy that stand to defy the disease on the basis of movement. These activity-based interventions have opened positive new doors for those with PD, allowing a potentially harrowing process to become more empowering and communal. 

Offering new possibilities

With a disease as physically multifaceted as PD, early and ongoing intervention is key in combating degeneration and ensuring a stronger quality of life. Naturally, much of this treatment is aimed at mobility, strength, balance, and other crucial aspects of everyday physicality. Johns Hopkins Medicine points to amplitude movement training, reciprocal patterns, balance work, strength training, and stretching and flexibility as primary categories in PD-based therapy, each targeting a different aspect of physical independence. 

Now, PD-focused outlets are using this framework to experiment with exciting new forms of therapy — many of them rooted in a much-needed sense of normalcy and camaraderie. For instance, a Williamsburg, Virginia-based physical therapy facility uses boxing as a means of developing balance, coordination, and general strength. What’s more, the facility has made it possible for those with PD to participate in a sport that may otherwise seem out of reach — all while creating an “emotional support system … by fostering a community in which other members can discuss what they’re going through, different treatment methods, and how they are coping.”

Meanwhile, programs like Louisiana Tech offer dance-based therapy for people with PD. The Ruston-based university utilizes its music and movement program to offer “music, dance, and social interaction” as an effective blend of physical and mental stimulation. 

Making an impact

On an emotional and social level, these prevailing therapies are helping to normalize PD’s symptoms, but they are also proving to have a measurable impact on the disease’s overall severity. 

Supporting evidence for personalized, unconventional PD physical therapy has been building for some time; a 2010 study, for instance, highlighted the efficacy of “comprehensive, client-centered physical therapy for people with PD” when such interventions were implemented “at optimal times to promote health and wellbeing and by educating the individual regarding long-term self-management strategies.” This study also noted that the extent of therapy use was dependent on “individual needs and changes over time as the person ages and the disease progresses.”

More recently, a 2017 study found that dance therapy “significantly improved … and retained” motor and cognitive functions in PD patients as opposed to traditional therapy, reinforcing this specific approach in terms of both efficacy and longevity. 

As this body of therapeutic medicine grows to consider untapped resources like VR technology and exergaming, it remains poised to offer even more accessibility and individualization for the PD community.