Creighton University physical therapy students are getting patients with Parkinson’s disease moving in a whole new way. With techniques from tai chi, yoga and Pilates, students are learning alternative methods to improve patients’ function and way of life.
For patients with Parkinson’s disease, mobility is key to managing symptoms. The tendency for people with Parkinson’s is to use slow and small movements when walking or otherwise moving.
“Parkinson’s is a progressive disease. Evidence has shown movement in general is really good for slowing disease,” Kelli Wrolstad, a second-year physical therapy student, says.
But, she adds, “it’s not realistic to tell someone to hop on a treadmill.” Instead, alternative exercises can be modified to fit the needs of patients. Tai chi moves often involve large motions, which is perfect for patients who need to increase mobility.
The second-year physical therapy students started the day studying Parkinson’s in their neuromuscular lecture, then learning the alternative exercise methods in another class and finally applying those techniques to community individuals with Parkinson’s disease. The goal is to help student integrate information presented in different classes and to provide an opportunity for community members to engage in exercise.
“You learn a lot in a classroom, but it doesn’t always make sense until you interact with somebody who’s living with that condition,” Heather Knight, PT, DPT, assistant professor of physical therapy, says. “Interactions with real individuals help make learning stick.”
Groups of students worked with patients in the physical therapy lab, modifying each exercise to fit each patient’s individual needs. In one group, a metronome served as an auditory cue to match steps to the beat. The overall goal is to keep patients participating in their daily activities.
“If we can maximize their function and participation, they can maintain their independence,” Jessica Niski, PT, DPT, assistant professor of physical therapy, says.
One patient was particularly drawn to yoga, which helped challenge his balance. So, students taught him different warrior poses.
“It brings me out of my comfort zone,” second-year physical therapy student Theresa Wenner says.
All these techniques can be applied to a variety of patients in students’ physical therapy work.
“It’s interesting learning along with the patient,” Danny McAndrew, a second-year physical therapy student, says. “It’s trial and error. It aligns a lot with what we do: multitasking.”