Balance and Parkinson’s Disease: March 7, 2019

Walking, climbing stairs, even turning around, can all become challenging for patients living with Parkinson’s disease.   “It’s very important to tackle those issues as early as possible, even to educate oneself what may happen so they can recognize and perhaps work on their balance before things go bad,” said Nathalie Grondin, a physical therapist with Lee Health.

As the disease progresses, patients can develop postural instability—putting them at risk for a fall.  “We let them know ahead of time; this is where you may encounter difficulties. Look for that, and then we offer strategies, tips and tricks to deal with these issues and that lessens their risk of falling,” she said.

Studies show every year one in three people over the age of 65 will fall—a risk that greatly increases for patients with Parkinson’s disease.  “We know people with Parkinson’s tend to have a forward bend posture which does affect balance. Also, the fact that they tend to shuffle their feet, small steps, that effects foot clearance which would lead to people to perhaps trip,” said Grondin.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease are also at risk of having freezing episodes as they walk—meaning their feet stop moving as they try to walk. This can also put them at risk for a fall.  “It’s frightening, absolutely. And if they don’t understand why it happens or when it happens, the anxiety level is even higher, which probably also increases the risk of falling,” she said.

Therapists work with patients and their loved ones to teach them how to safely walk, turn, and get off the floor if they fall. Education that can help patients understand their diagnosis and protect their balance.