Therapy improves mobility for Parkinson's disease patients

Laura Garcia By Laura Garcia

Aug. 10, 2017 at 9:57 p.m.

Mary Blanton, 74, front, walks for six minutes with Mary Drost, a physical therapist, at Victoria Physical Therapy. Blanton was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three years ago. She has postural instability and gait disorder from Parkinson's, which impairs her mobility.  Drost recently trained to be certified in the LSVT BIG program, which helps patients retrain their brains to improve their motor skills.

Mary Blanton, 74, front, walks for six minutes with Mary Drost, a physical therapist, at Victoria Physical Therapy. Blanton was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three years ago. She has postural instability and gait disorder from Parkinson's, which impairs her mobility. Drost recently trained to be certified in the LSVT BIG program, which helps patients retrain their brains to improve their motor skills.   Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

Mary Blanton, 74, noticed years ago she was dragging her foot a little bit.

"It just kept on getting worse," she said.

Three years ago, she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease by a Houston doctor.

The neurodegenerative brain disorder progresses slowly in most people and, in her case, affects her gait and balance.

So when her doctor recommended a specific type of therapy called LSVT BIG, she turned to a physical therapist she has trusted for the past 20 years or so.

Mary Drost, 55, was working on a doctorate degree at the University of Texas Medical Branch at the time.

Drost's professor recommended she become certified in the therapy for her last semester because it complemented her coursework.

When Blanton learned Drost would be able to provide the specialized treatment locally, she was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Drost said with an aging population, this protocol will become more crucial.

Laura Guse, chief clinical officer of LSVT BIG, said the program should be prescribed early in the course of Parkinson's disease.

"Don't wait till you're falling over or having severe problems with your mobility or speech. Do something now," she said.

Physical and occupational therapists can be certified to offer the treatment intervention, which was developed from a speech treatment called LSVT LOUD.

Guse said they first started training these therapists in 2007 and have since then trained more than 13,000 globally.

"People with Parkinson's are not aware of how small and how slow their movements are because there's a sensory deficit," she said.

The treatment is more than a general exercise approach because it changes a patient's brain and motor learning, she said.

"We very systematically address sensory impairment so the person learns how big they have to move to be moving normally," Guse said.

Last week, during her last visit to Victoria Physical Therapy's office, Blanton learned just how helpful the treatment was.

Drost said the goal was to work one-on-one four consecutive days a week to retrain her brain to use bigger movements.

"She's doing great," Drost said as she timed and took detailed notes during Blanton's most recent therapy session.

She watched Blanton's balance and how quickly she was able to get up from a chair and walk.

The final test was a six-minute test to see how many feet she could walk continuously.

Drost walked closely behind as Blanton took off down a hallway, determined to do better than she did four weeks before.

"Keep walking big and fast to the very end," Drost encouraged Blanton.

And she did.

The first time she did the test, she walked 493 feet within six minutes. This time, she walked 1,381 feet.

"That's very significant," Drost said. "We have to attribute it to the intervention."

Blanton just completed the four-week treatment program and plans to continue the exercises at home with the help of her husband of 57 years, Jeff Blanton.

"He is wonderful," she said. "He didn't expect me to be so much better after just one time."

Traveling to doctor's appointments in Houston is tough, but even a trip to the store is tiring.

"With Parkinson's, I have to watch what I do because I get super tired," she said.

Guse said this treatment gives people hope after they've been diagnosed with a devastating disease like Parkinson's.

"It gives them a chance at empowerment that they can't get from a pill," she said.


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