How Occupational Therapy Helps Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the brain that impairs nerve cells that control movement. This leads to symptoms like shaking, stiffness and difficulty with walking and talking, that gradually worsen over time. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year, with men being 1.5 times more likely to have the disease than women.

April is both Parkinson’s and Occupational Therapy awareness month. Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s, occupational therapy treatments can help with those living with the disease have a better quality of life. A program offered at Overlake that has been shown to be beneficial is called LSVT BIG, which was developed from principles of the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment program (named for a woman living with Parkinson’s) that has been researched over the past 25 years.

Healthy Outlook spoke with occupational therapist Lorinda Hagstrom from Overlake’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Services to learn more about this treatment.

What is LSVT BIG?

LSVT BIG is an intensive, amplitude-focused approach to treating people with Parkinson's disease. It addresses the sensory-motor deficits and neurological pathways that are impaired by the disease, by providing feedback to the brain through effortful movement.

LSVT BIG addresses the movement deficits related to Parkinson's and its impact on daily function, including walking. LSVT LOUD treats the voice and speech disorders that develop in people with Parkinson's.

Who can benefit from this program?

People with Parkinson's, especially in the early stages but really across the spectrum if they can follow instructions. People with other neurological conditions may also benefit from the principles. 

How long does the LSVT program last?

The LSVT BIG program is 16 sessions: four consecutive days per week for four weeks. Each session lasts one hour. There is daily homework practice as well. Once a person graduates from LSVT BIG with the skilled therapy sessions, the recommendation is to continue the exercises daily.

At our clinic, we have occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology all under one roof. Occupational and physical therapy combine to provide the frequency of services each week, which allows us to address a vast number of a person's concerns in that four-week period.

What do patients and their families say about LSVT?

Patients are excited to see and feel the changes. Loved ones will often comment on their observation of the person's improved movement or posture or daily activity participation. Most clients notice progress in their walking and movement within the first week, but the real change is at the end of four weeks when re-testing shows numbers that reinforce how he/she feels related to gains in walking speed, balance, managing buttons or fasteners, bed mobility and daily tasks.

LSVT BIG is improving the quality of life for our clients, but it is also very rewarding for the therapists. To see their expression and realization of what they can still do is a joy, and doing the movements alongside him/her reminds me of the effort that is put forth as they live with the disease day in and day out. It takes a lot of commitment from the client, their support system and us as therapists, but the outcomes are worth it.

LSVT programs require a physician referral. To learn more, talk to your healthcare provider or visit Overlake’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Services.