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Arizona Parkinson's Disease Victims Step Up for Study
Effects of Exercise on Parkinson's Measured
- Jul 06 2010
Seven years ago, it started with trembling in her hands and jaw. A year later, Sun City resident Gloria Richman shuffled along with her head down, didn't move her arms, and her face was "like a mask."
The diagnosis confirmed what Richman, 63, feared. She had Parkinson's disease, joining close to a million Americans who live with the chronic, progressive neurological disorder caused by degeneration of dopamine-producing brain cells. Richman didn't like what she heard next.
"Someone told me you don't die from Parkinson's, you die with it," she recalled on a recent weekday at Peoria's Rio Vista Recreation Center indoor walking track, as she dug her palms into ski-polelike sticks, moving along at a steady pace. "And I didn't like the idea of not being able to do anything about it."
She is now.
Richman is one of eight participants in the first phase of a collaborative study among Arizona State University, Banner Sun Health Research Institute, Banner Alzheimer's Institute and Barrow Neurological Institute. The researchers got $500,000 from the National Institutes of Health to monitor the physical and neurological impacts of exercise on Parkinson's.
The study includes 12 weeks of a three-days-a-week, 45-minute pole-walking or pole-striding routine. The skilike motion provides additional balance to patients, which allows them to safely walk longer and at a higher intensity, according to Narayanan Krishnamurthi, the study's principal investigator.
People swing their arms as they walk with poles and it increases their step length, in contrast to those with Parkinson's who walk with small steps, which can lead to the freezing of their gait, said Krishnamurthi, assistant professor at the Center for Adaptive Neural Systems at ASU's Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.
It doesn't need any high-tech equipment and can be done anywhere, said Dr. Holly Shill, director of Parkinson's research at Banner Sun Health Research Institute, also working on the project.
A similar study on animals getting regular exercise showed they didn't lose as many neurons or experience symptoms as severe as those that didn't exercise. The researchers want to see if regular exercise can be as beneficial in humans.
"This type of study is exactly what's needed," said James Beck, director of research programs at Parkinson's Disease Foundation, a New York-based national non-profit dedicated to Parkinson's research.
Beck said one of the challenges in researching the disease is it's hard to access the brain and to get drugs to enter the brain.
"If you're trying to study cancer, you take the cancer out and study it in a dish. In Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, you can't do anything until a person has passed away," Beck said. Krishnamurthi said preliminary data from two participants have shown that the stride length of the walking pattern has increased, which helps normalize the walking pattern.
Data also suggest improved aerobic capacity, which is linked to brain function.
Krishnamurthi said the study is unique because they're collecting information on motor skills and cognitive functions through brain imaging.
"No one has studied whether exercise can improve brain function of people with Parkinson's," he said.
Study participant John Sylvester, 67, said he hopes to help researchers for himself and others.
"If this can help put off the inevitable, it's definitely worthwhile," said the Phoenix resident.
Krishnamurthi expects to have preliminary results from the first set of participants in a couple of months.
He seeks additional participants for the second phase, testing for which should be done in a year.
Participants must be less than 70 years old with mild to moderate Parkinson's, and would need to make a nine-month commitment for the study. To participate, contact Krishnamurthi at 480-727-8396.
Source Date: Jul 03 2010
Source Publication: The Arizona Republic
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