Parkinson’s Disease is a condition that progressively worsens over time. There is no cure, although medication can help to reduce symptoms. The three main symptoms of the disease are:
- Tremors or involuntary shaking of different parts of the body
- Stiff and inflexible muscles
- Slow movement
There are other symptoms that may also be experienced through the condition, including:
- Balance problems, which could increase the risk of falling
- Insomnia or loss of sleep
- Loss of the sense of smell
- Memory problems
- Anxiety and depression
The disease is caused by a reduction in nerve cells in parts of the brain. This reduces the amount of dopamine produced, which helps to regulate movement of the body. Scientists have not yet found the reason for the loss of nerve cells.
If you suspect that you may have some symptoms that suggest you might be in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, then you should make an appointment with your GP. If you are found to have the disease, then you will be monitored regularly because of the progressive nature of the disease.
Singing may improve motor function for people with Parkinson’s Disease
Iowa State University led a study into how singing could improve quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. A small pilot study of 17 people suggested that singing regularly could improve respiratory and swallow control, and also mood and motor symptoms. It was also found to reduce stress. The study compared the improvements to taking medication. The work was presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference in 2018.
The leading scientists measured blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels both before and after a therapeutic singing lesson, which lasted an hour. The participants also self-reported their emotions. The singing seemed to reduce levels of all three measurements, but the results were not statistically significant. Participants felt less anxious or sad, but there were no significant differences in happiness or anger.
The next stage in the research would be to account for the dips in measurements.
Stegemoller, E., Effects of group singing on stress and motor symptoms in persons with Parkinson’s disease, November 2018, Presentation at Neuroscience 2018
Review of the link between Parkinson’s Disease and the gut biome
A team of scientists from Finland, Denmark and France, have attempted to summarise two decades’ worth of studies based around Parkinson’s Disease and the gut biome. The review was published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease and is currently available to read in full online. The review was initiated because some patients with the condition, often also have problems with their gut, sometimes before the disease is diagnosed.
The scientists identified problems with the current thinking on the gut biome’s effect on the condition. These included:
Alpha-synuclein deposits found in the enteric nervous system of patients with Parkinson’s need to be investigated to see if they are similar to those found in the brain
There may be other reasons for the alpha-synuclein deposits and it has not yet been proved that permeability of the intestine is increased in patients with Parkinson’s
Scientists need to develop alternative techniques to find the deposits in the gut, as previous studies on immunohistochemistry on the deposits have had conflicting results due to a number of different methodologies that have been used
Scientists need to investigate the mechanisms that link Parkinson’s to the gut biome in both large standardised studies of patients and animal models
The scientists point out that understanding the role of the gut biome in Parkinson’s might bring new therapies to the fore, including dietary intervention, treatments to eliminate harmful bacteria, substances to promote good bacteria and transfer of bacterial ecosystems. They also suggest that new treatments could be found. The scientists hope that their review could affect the next two decades of Parkinson’s Disease treatment and that both diagnosis and treatment could improve as a result.
Scheperjans, F., Derkinderen, P., Borghammer, P., The Gut and Parkinson’s Disease: Hype or Hope? Journal of Parkinson's Disease, 2018; 8 (s1): S31
How exercise may improve cognitive abilities as well as motor skills in Parkinson’s
A collaboration between scientists in Germany and Australia reviewed studies on the effects of resistance exercise, aerobic exercise and co-ordination exercise on domain-specific cognitive function in patients who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The review was published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease. The scientists started with the premise that physical exercise is generally associated with increased brain function in older adults, but that little had been done in the area of patients with Parkinson’s.
The scientists reviewed 11 studies which had involved over 500 patients with Parkinson’s, who had a disease severity between 1 and 4 on the Hoehn & Yahr scale, which is used to measure the progression of the disease. Four of the studies showed positive effects of exercise on cognitive function, with no negative effects. The severity of the disease had also been improved.
Although the scientists found no specific evidence on which exercise would be the most effective, they did find that all types of exercise could be associated with improved cognitive function for people with Parkinson’s disease. They suggested that future studies should directly compare the effects of different types of exercise as more high-quality studies were needed. Although exercise was used most often to help maintain motor skills, it could also be used to help improve cognitive function and eventually improve the patient’s quality of life. The scientists felt that exercise should be routinely prescribed for patients with Parkinson’s because of the improvement it can provide both physically and mentally.
Stuckenschneider, T., et al., The Effect of Different Exercise Modes on Domain-Specific Cognitive Function in Patients Suffering from Parkinson’s Disease: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Parkinson's Disease, 2019; 9 (1): 73
NHS Information on Parkinson's Disease