Although there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, there are treatment options to help manage a patient’s symptoms and improve quality of life.

Let's talk about Parkinson's disease

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Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic neurodegenerative condition that causes tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement, balance problems and a variety of other symptoms – all of which can vary greatly from patient to patient. Although there is no cure, there are treatment options to help manage a patient’s symptoms and improve quality of life.

Karen Thomas, D.O., is with Sentara Neurology Specialists on the campus of Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach. Dr. Thomas also serves as the director of the Sentara Parkinson’s Disease Program and has specialized in PD more than 14 years.

Here, she answers a few questions about Parkinson's disease and treatment options.

We understand that medications play a role in helping with symptoms, but there are other therapies and approaches that are just as important as any medication. Can you list some of these other methods?

Participating in specific PD physical and speech therapy programs are extremely important. These programs are designed to treat a patient’s specific symptoms and help them maintain mobility, communications and quality of life. Other therapy options found to be valuable are music therapy and occupational therapy. Living an active lifestyle and maintaining social contacts also are key, not just because they support good mobility, but they help improve communication skills, thought processing and mood. Group activities specific for PD patients, such as support groups and exercise classes, are helpful too.

Could you give an example of how you have seen a difference in your patients by using different therapies?

I have had numerous patients over the years who had become very sedentary with their PD, causing more rapid decline in balance and mobility as well as speech and communication. They were referred for PD specific therapies (physical therapy and speech therapy) and had remarkable improvement on activity levels, walking, balance and speech.  Some patients with early PD, that have no significant functional impairment, find they are able to hold off on starting medications by getting aggressive physical therapy and speech therapy and adopting a more focused exercise program.

It seems you have organized a support group for patients who are under the age of 60 with PD called "Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease Support Group." Could you explain why you chose this targeted group?

While people with PD have challenges, the Young Onset group has some unique ones, as often they are faced with changes in ability to perform at their jobs or school, have to consider at times changing life plans, deal with changes in family dynamic and personal relationships and often have young children or elderly parents to take care of. When faced with these challenges, they are more likely to experience difficulty with changes in feelings of identity and self-worth in these situations.  The Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease Support Group will help provide this target audience guidance and support on facing these challenges.

Want to learn more about the Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease Support Group? Call 757-507-0604 or visit the Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease Support Group web page.