Patients With Parkinson’s Disease Find Comfort In Movement Therapies

Northwestern Medicine
Neurosciences August 18, 2017
If you asked a patient diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease ten years ago how they felt, they might have responded “hopeless”, however new therapeutic advancements in the management of Parkinson’s have changed the perception for the better. At the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center (PDMDC) at Northwestern Memorial Hospital clinicians are working on treatment plans that truly help patients adjust and continue living their usual lifestyle.

Not only does the center offer traditional pharmaceutical treatments, but it also offers an array of support groups and counseling services along with many holistic medicine practices such as yoga and acupuncture. A couple of the most unique offerings include art and music therapy.

“The center strives to provide patients and their families with multi-disciplinary and holistic care, accomplished through a variety of educational seminars, support groups, music therapy and yoga, among others,” said Pam Palmentera, LCSW, coordinator and social worker at PDMDC. “The aim is to improve and extend a patient’s quality of life, minimize the burdens of the disease, support caregivers, and assist patients in leading productive and independent lives.”

A key trait of the center is its inclusiveness. PDMDC strives to help as many patients as possible, and hopes to be a resource for those taking care of loved ones with Parkinson’s.

“PDMDC conducts outreach activities directed toward identifying communities with limited clinical and educational services,” said Palmentera. “The center sponsors patient and caregiver symposium for Parkinson’s patients.”

One of the most popular program for patients with Parkinson’s at PDMDC is dance therapy.

“It allows people to focus on movement they can do and not limit themselves or dwell on what they cannot. It gives an individual a sense of control through the body when they might feel out of control,” said Erica Hornthal*, dance instructor at North Shore Dance Therapy*, partner of PDMDC.

Patients who participate in dance therapy usually practice weekly. According to Hornthal, the patients participate in “experimental or improvisational dance” where they are able to explore movements they are comfortable with along with different rhythms, tempos, and genres of music.

Instructors have noticed a more positive outlook in patients when they use dance as a therapeutic approach to their disease, possibly stemming from the patients newfound sense of accomplishment.

“Whether it is symptom management, increased flexibility, improved gait, balance, or coordination, there are 100 percent positive improvements. The joy that comes over someone as they relearn to connect the body and themselves is priceless,” said Hornthal.

Other therapies offered at PDMDC include aquatic therapy, hand therapy, and balance and gait training. Eight different movement-disorder programs have been created to help address specific diseases, such as Wilson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

“It is tremendously rewarding to offer a wide range of innovative creativity and wellness programs to people with Parkinson's disease,” said director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, Dr. Tanya Simuni, MD. “It is exciting to see the degree of emotional boost patients get after attending the classes and at the same time we
learn from them and uncover talents that were previously dormant.”

The PDMDC works with many types of movement disorders. Learn more about the center’s work by exploring their website.

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