OT and YOU: April is Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month

Parkinson's Disease and the Role of Occupational Therapy

What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's Disease is a neurodegenerative disease; it belongs to a group of disorders which affect the brain. Other group disorders include ALS, MS, Alzheimer's, and Dementia. Movement is normally controlled by dopamine, a chemical that carries signals between the nerves in the brain. When cells that normally produce dopamine die, the symptoms of Parkinson's appear.

Motor Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

  • Shaking or tremors of a limb at rest
  • Slowness and stiffness
  • Impaired balance
  • Rigidity of the muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Soft speech
  • Stooped posture

Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease can vary substantially from patient to patient and can include the following: drooling, choking and swallowing difficulties, loss of sense of smell nausea and vomiting, constipation, bowel and bladder dysfunction, unexplained changes in weight, dementia and cognitive impairment, hallucinations, depression, anxiety, orthostatic hypotension, excessive daytime sleepiness, insomnia, REM sleep behavior disorder, restless leg syndrome, leg swelling, excessive sweating, double vision, delusions, impulse control disorders.

For more information check out the Guide to Non-Motor Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.

The OT Role

An Occupational Therapist may be involved in completing the following assessments and interventions for a client with Parkinson's Disease:

  • Falls Prevention
  • Home Safety
  • Accessibility
  • Teaching alternative methods of performing activity of daily living and instrumental activity of daily living tasks that pose a challenge, ie. feeding, dressing, meal preparation, household duties, to increase independence

An Occupational Therapist may make the following suggestions and recommendations to a client with Parkinson's Disease:

  • Focus on the immediate task and avoid multi-tasking
  • Incorporate energy conservation techniques, ie. sitting when dressing, and preparing meals
  • Set up bedroom on main level of the home to reduce risk of falls on stairs and conserve energy
  • Eliminate clutter in the home and ensure walkways are lit to reduce risk of falls
  • Elastic shoelaces for footwear to increase independence in dressing
  • Weighted utensils to reduce hand tremors and increase independence with feeding
  • Participation in a community Chronic Disease Self-Management group
  • Referral to a Physiotherapist for walking aid and/or exercise recommendations

For additional tips for clients with Parkinson's Disease, check out Occupational Therapy: Making a Difference for People with Parkinson's.

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