Complementary Therapies in the Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease

Complementary therapies are often prescribed in the treatment of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, although there is no clear and consensual guidance on the methodology to be followed.

There is, however, growing evidence that treatment should be comprehensive and multidisciplinary. It should also take a holistic view of all the aspects that have an impact on the patient’s state of health. Once a correct diagnosis of the disease has been obtained and the pharmacological treatment has been channelled, the following should be assessed:

  • motor functionalism
  • communicative deficiencies
  • the ability to carry out activities of daily living
  • cognitive and psychological status
  • quality of life
  • nutritional status

In order to apply complementary therapies correctly, the particular circumstances of each patient must be taken into account and possible contraindications must be ruled out.

In the case of Parkinson’s disease, specialists in Neurology recommend:

  • Perform treatment in the on phase, which is the time of better control of motor symptoms, because the medication is taking effect.
  • Avoid fatigue and introduce breaks whenever necessary.
  • Use flexible exercises and strategies, adapted to the needs of each patient.
  • Lifestyle changes can sometimes help to prevent or attenuate the severity of impairment. Maintaining an active social life, improving sleep quality and reducing stress can also be beneficial.

The main objective of all complementary therapies is to improve the quality of life of the affected person, contributing to his or her independence and reintegration into social and family life.

On the one hand, physiotherapy aims to improve physical capacity in general, through muscle-building, postural, gait, fine mobility or balance exercises, among others.

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Through speech therapy, patients become aware of their communication difficulties and learn techniques and strategies to improve speech intelligibility. This specialty also prevents and treats swallowing disorders.

Occupational therapy, on the other hand, promotes the patient’s readaptation to achieve maximum autonomy in their environment. It aims to reeducate in order to improve the deficient functions, readapt through the development of residual abilities and advise the affected person and his family environment on practical solutions to promote the integration of the person in his environment.

The diagnosis has an impact on patients and family members, and adaptation to the changes is not easy. Psychological counseling can improve the patient’s well-being, reduce the emotional discomfort of the informal caregiver, promote personal autonomy and normalize the different areas of life.

The main goal of cognitive rehabilitation is to develop strategies to improve cognitive deficits within a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. This may start with cognitive function training and end with problem solving. Cognitive stimulation promotes brain plasticity, facilitates neuronal growth and induces functional reorganization.

Finally, it is also worth mentioning intensive therapies. There is, however, growing evidence that treatment should be comprehensive and multidisciplinary. Very recent publications show that if it is also intensive, the benefits can last for several months.