Newsletter Article

Treating the Symptoms of Parkinson’s with Sleep, Physical Activity Therapies

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological disorder that affects movement and cognitive function. Common symptoms include slow movement, tremors, speech problems, memory loss, and sleep disturbances. Medication and different therapies can greatly improve functional capabilities of those with PD.

In individuals with PD, sleep plays a major factor and can drastically affect a person’s quality of life. Sleep disturbances are very common in those with PD, and improvements in sleep have been shown to help reduce symptoms of the disease. [1] Common sleep disturbances include sleep fragmentation, excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep-disordered breathing, restless leg syndrome, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD), which may be a precursor to PD that can begin occurring years before the typical motor symptoms associated with PD. [2]

Memory loss is another increasingly studied symptom of PD. A recent study examined the idea that working memory, traditionally thought to be inflexible, can be trained and that processes during sleep may facilitate improvements in working memory performance. [3] PD subjects that were either taking or not taking dopaminergic medication stayed at a lab for two nights and performed digit span forward (short-term memory) and digit span backward (working memory) tests throughout the day. Subjects taking dopaminergic medication showed significant improvements on the second day on digit span backward tests, suggesting that sleep may play a role in working memory. There was also a positive correlation between improvements and slow-wave sleep obtained and a negative correlation with a decrease in nocturnal oxygen saturation. These findings suggest that correcting sleep disorders may lead to improvements in memory function.

Physical activity therapy can also be used to help treat symptoms of PD. In a study comparing different exercise interventions and their effects on PD, subjects were trained using progressive resistance exercise (PRE) or modified fitness counts (mFC).[4] The primary measurement were scores based on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS-III), where a lower score represents milder motor symptoms and a higher score represents more severe symptoms. By the end of the 24 month study, the PRE group showed significantly greater improvement from baseline than the mFC group based on off-medication UPDRS-III scores. A PRE program may be more effective at treating motor symptoms than the mFC program that is recommended from the National Parkinson Foundation.

Improving quality of sleep and increasing physical activity can ultimately help with symptoms associated with the disease. The current research on sleep and working memory performance shows promising outcomes for PD patients. More research on this subject is important to connect sleep disorders and memory function.