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Physical exercise helps improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

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Physical exercise can help to improve the severity of movement-related symptoms and the quality of life in people with Parkinson’s disease, a new study shows.

Findings from the first Cochrane review of the available evidence found that any type of structured exercise is better than none.

The review looked at 156 randomised controlled trials comparing physical exercise with no physical exercise or with different types of exercise, and it included a total of 7,939 people from around the world, making it the largest and most comprehensive systematic review to study the effects of physical exercise in people with Parkinson’s disease.

The review from Cochrane, a collaboration of independent, international experts, was led by Dr Elke Kalbe, Professor of Medical Psychology at the University of Cologne, Germany.

 It found that physical exercise ranging from dance, water-based exercise, strength and resistance exercise and endurance exercise, to tai chi, yoga and physiotherapy, made mild to large improvements to the severity of movement-related (‘motor’) symptoms and quality of life.

“Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that mostly affects people over 60,” said Professor Kalbe. 

“Symptoms begin gradually and include movement problems such as trembling, stiffness, slowness of movement and balance, and lack of coordination. People can also have emotional and mood problems, fatigue, sleep problems and cognitive difficulties. Parkinson’s Disease cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be relieved, and physiotherapy or other forms of exercise may help too. Until now it has been unclear whether some types of exercise work better than others. We wanted to find out what exercise works best to improve movement and quality of life.”

The average age of the participants in the studies included in the review was between 60 and 74 years. Most had mild to moderate disease and no major impairment of their thinking processes. The review found that most types of exercise worked well for the participants compared to no physical exercise.

The first author of the review, Mr Moritz Ernst, a member of Cochrane Haematology and deputy head of the working group on Evidence-based Medicine, at University Hospital Cologne, said: “We observed clinically meaningful improvements in the severity of motor symptoms for most types of exercise. These included dancing, training to improve gait, balance and movement, multi-exercise training, and mind-body training.  

“We saw similar benefits in the severity of motor symptoms for water-based training, strength and resistance training, and endurance training, but the estimates of improvement were rather imprecise, meaning that we are not as confident in saying that these improvements are clinically meaningful.

“For the effects on quality of life, we observed clinically meaningful beneficial effects for water-based training, and effects that are probably clinically meaningful for several types of exercise, such as endurance training, mind-body training, training to improve gait, balance and movement and multi-exercise training. Again, these estimates were rather imprecise.”

The certainty in the estimates for the effects on symptoms from different forms of exercise varied because some studies were very small, and not all provided information on the severity of motor symptoms and quality of life for all the participants. 

However, the authors say that their review highlights that most types of exercise produced meaningful improvements, and they found little evidence of much difference between different exercises.

Professor Kalbe said: “We think that our results are good news because they indicate that people with Parkinson’s Disease can benefit from various structured exercise programmes to improve the severity of motor symptoms and quality of life. Our review highlights the importance of physical exercise in general, while the exact exercise type may be secondary. Therefore, the personal preferences of people with Parkinson’s Disease should be given special consideration to help motivate them to adhere to an exercise programme. Any exercise counts!

“It is important to point out that our conclusions do not rule out that certain motor symptoms may be treated most effectively by programmes, such as physiotherapy, that are designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease.”

Mr Ernst concluded: “Although our results are quite promising for people with Parkinson’s Disease, the certainty in the evidence on the efficacy of different exercise types and on potential differences between them, was usually limited. This was also because most studies had a very small sample size. Therefore, although there is already a large amount of research in this field, we would encourage researchers to conduct larger studies with clearly defined samples, as this would help to draw conclusions with more confidence.

“In addition, it would be admirable to see studies that focus on people with more advanced disease and thinking impairment, so that we could find out if physical exercise could also be beneficial for these people.

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Air pollution linked to increased hospital admission for heart and lung diseases

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Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution is linked to an increased risk of hospital admission for major heart and lung diseases, find two large US studies, published by The BMJ.

Together, the results suggest that no safe threshold exists for heart and lung health.

According to the Global Burden of Disease study, exposure to PM2.5 accounts for an estimated 7.6% of total global mortality and 4.2% of global disability adjusted life years (a measure of years lived in good health).

In light of this extensive evidence, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated the air quality guidelines in 2021, recommending that an annual average PM2.5 levels should not exceed 5 μg/m3 and 24 hour average PM2.5 levels should not exceed 15 μg/m3 on more than 3-4 days each year.

In the first study, researchers linked average daily PM2.5 levels to residential zip codes for nearly 60 million US adults (84 per cent white, 55 per cent women) aged 65 and over from 2000 to 2016. They then used Medicare insurance data to track hospital admissions over an average of eight years.

After accounting for a range of economic, health and social factors, average PM2.5 exposure over three years was associated with increased risks of first hospital admissions for seven major types of cardiovascular disease – ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, valvular heart disease, and thoracic and abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Compared with exposures of 5 μg/m3 or less (the WHO air quality guideline for annual PM2.5), exposures between 9 and 10 μg/m3, which encompassed the US national average of 9.7 μg/m3 during the study period, were associated with a 29% increased risk of hospital admission for cardiovascular disease.

On an absolute scale, the risk of hospital admission for cardiovascular disease increased from 2.59% with exposures of 5 μg/m3 or less to 3.35% at exposures between 9 and 10 μg/m3.

“This means that if we were able to manage to reduce annual PM2.5 below 5 µg/m3, we could avoid 23% in hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease,” say the researchers.*

These cardiovascular effects persisted for at least three years after exposure to PM2.5, and susceptibility varied by age, education, access to healthcare services, and area deprivation level.

The researchers say their findings suggest that no safe threshold exists for the chronic effect of PM2.5 on overall cardiovascular health, and that substantial benefits could be attained through adherence to the WHO air quality guideline.

“On February 7, 2024, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated the national air quality standard for annual PM2.5 level, setting a stricter limit at no more than 9 µg/m3. This is the first update since 2012. However, it is still considerably higher than the 5 µg/m3 set by WHO. Obviously, the newly published national standard was not sufficient for the protection of public health,” they add.*

In the second study, researchers used county-level daily PM2.5 concentrations and medical claims data to track hospital admissions and emergency department visits for natural causes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease for 50 million US adults aged 18 and over from 2010 to 2016.

During the study period, more than 10 million hospital admissions and 24 million emergency department visits were recorded.

They found that short term exposure to PM2.5, even at concentrations below the new WHO air quality guideline limit, was statistically significantly associated with higher rates of hospital admissions for natural causes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease, as well as emergency department visits for respiratory disease.

For example, on days when daily PM2.5 levels were below the new WHO air quality guideline limit of 15 μg/m3, an increase of 10 μg/m3 in PM2.5 was associated with 1.87 extra hospital admissions per million adults aged 18 and over per day.

The researchers say their findings constitute an important contribution to the debate about the revision of air quality limits, guidelines, and standards.

Both research teams acknowledge several limitations such as possible misclassification of exposure and point out that other unmeasured factors may have affected their results. What’s more, the findings may not apply to individuals without medical insurance, children and adolescents, and those living outside the US.

However, taken together, these new results provide valuable reference for future national air pollution standards.

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Home health care linked to increased hospice use at end-of-life – study

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Patients who had previously received home health care had a higher likelihood of accessing hospice care at the end of their life, according to a new study.

Researchers, whose findings are published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, examined the home health care and hospice care experiences of more than two million people.

Using Medicare data, researchers found when individuals received home health care before the last year of their life, they had higher odds of using hospice care than those who had never received home health care.

Researchers said this association underscores the potential benefits of receiving end-of-life care in the comfort of one’s home.

As the aged population increases, the findings also show the need for more resources in the health care sector and staff training in end-of-life care.

Home health care services including skilled nursing, therapy, social work and aide services are used to maintain functioning or slow decline in health. Hospice care provides similar services but is intended for those with life expectancies of six months or less and is focused on pain relief, minimising hospital visits and providing comfort and support. Both services provide patients the opportunity to receive more personalised care in their home.

Researchers say home-based care also encourages greater involvement of family caregivers in the caregiving process.

Olga Jarrín, senior author of the study, the Hunterdon Professor of Nursing Research at the Rutgers School of Nursing and director of the Community Health and Aging Outcomes Laboratory within the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, commented: “In addition to benefits for the patient, hospice care also provides resources and support to help family caregivers cope with the physical, emotional and practical challenges of caring for a loved one at the end of life.”

Hyosin (Dawn) Kim, research assistant professor at Oregon State University and first author of the study, added: “By providing personalised care, reducing hospitalisations, fostering family involvement and support, and improving symptom management, home-based care can enhance the quality of end-of-life experiences for patients with terminal illnesses and their families.”

 

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Sleep programme shows promise in those with memory problems – study

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A new study has shown promising results in improving sleep and quality of life in individuals living with memory problems.

A group of researchers from Penn Nursing, Penn Medicine, Rutgers School of Nursing, and Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, have delved into the efficacy of a non-pharmacological approach in a trial known as the Healthy Patterns Sleep Program.

The study involved 209 pairings of community-residing individuals with memory problems and their care partners. Participants were assigned to either the Healthy Patterns Sleep Program, which consisted of one-hour home activity sessions administered over four weeks, or a control group that received sleep hygiene training, plus education on home safety and health promotion.

The Healthy Patterns Sleep Program trained care partners in timed daily activities such as reminiscence in the morning, exercise in the afternoon and sensory activities in the evening that can decrease daytime sleepiness and improve nighttime sleep quality.

Nancy Hodgson, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Claire M. Fagin Leadership Professor in Nursing and Chair of Department of Biobehavioral Health Sciences, who led the study, said: “The results from this study provide fundamental new knowledge regarding the effects of timing activity participation and can lead to structured, replicable treatment protocols to address sleep disturbances. Overall, the Healthy Patterns program resulted in improved QOL compared to an attention-control group.”

The findings also indicate that, compared to a control group, the four-week Healthy Patterns program improved sleep quality among persons living with memory issues who had depressive symptoms or poor sleep quality.  The study indicates the Healthy Patterns Intervention might need a longer dose to induce improvements in other sleep-wake activity metrics.

The study’s significance lies in its confirmation of the effectiveness of behavioural interventions in not only improving quality of life and addressing sleep quality issues in this population, but also potentially reducing care partner burden and overall care costs for persons living at home with memory problems.

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