13 September 2001
A new Action Research study aims to benefit sufferers of Parkinson's disease
Sufferers of Parkinson's disease might reduce their risk of hazardous falls with the help of personalised exercise programmes.
Leading medical research charity Action Research has funded a pioneering study to explore whether following home-based activities could prevent patients' vulnerability to such falls.
Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative condition that commonly affects the elderly and is characterised by slow, stiff and shaky movements.
Sufferers tend to have frequent falls, with two thirds of patients living in the community likely to fall in a year, compared to one third of the general elderly population. Such falls can be both physically and financially costly, with a small minority of them fatal.
Leading the three-year project Professor Ann Ashburn, of the Health and Rehabilitation Research Unit at Southampton General Hospital, says: ' For many years, falls were considered to be an unavoidable consequence of increasing age but evidence is now growing that falls among the elderly may be preventable through exercise, for example.'
Professor Ashburn and her team are delighted that a total of more than £150,000 has been pumped into the project, which will be awarded in two phases - the first of which (£82,565) has been kindly funded by The John and Lucille van Geest Foundation.
This will enable the researchers, which include colleagues at the University's School of Health Professions and Rehabilitation Sciences, to lead a large-scale trial.
Having already identified patients at risk of falling through previous research, Professor Ashburn says the study will involve about 200 patients who have fallen two or more times during the last 12 months.
These will be randomised into two groups: a control group who will receive the usual care, and a group who will receive a home-based exercise programme.
Patients involved in the latter will follow six weeks of supervised training by therapists, in which they will be advised to take part in a programme of muscle strengthening, balance retraining, movement strategies and stretches for about three times a week.
Professor Ashburn says: 'The outcome should indicate the effectiveness of exercises for people with Parkinson's disease who are unstable and at risk of falling and injury.'
She adds: 'This information will be essential in providing evidence to guide physiotherapists in their development of programmes to help these patients.'
Action Research, which is fast approaching its 50th anniversary, is dedicated to overcoming disease and disability for children, families and the elderly across the UK. It is currently funding two other projects focusing on Parkinson's disease, including one in Sheffield where researchers are aiming to help medics more accurately diagnose the disease.
The charity's Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2m for vital medical research and more details can be found at www.action.org.uk
For further information and interviews, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Fact-file: *Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder in which sufferers become progressively slow, stiff and shaky. *It effects one in every 100 of people over the age of 65, although in recent years the high-profile case of film and television star, Michael J Fox, has highlighted that Parkinson's disease is not a condition exclusive to the older generations. *Primary symptoms are tremor in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face .There is also often rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and co-ordination. *These symptoms become progressively worse. *Research commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry found that every five hours a member of the general elderly population dies as a result of falling in the home