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Pedaling Past Parkinson’s

Posted Dec 12 2008 3:43pm

I have a fantasy that one morning I will wake up and a researcher will have discovered a CURE for Parkinson’s (PD). We all want a cure, not just a temporary Band-aid on the PD symptoms.

As I was resting on my yoga mat this afternoon, my ears perked up as I heard the lead into a story on TV about a CURE for PD.

The story on TV featured neuroscientist, Jay Alberts, Ph.D from the Cleveland Clinic, who used "forced exercise" (forced to exercise at a rate that’s faster than one’s voluntary rate) on a tandem bicycle to treat PD. Today’s story on TV featured Parkinson’s patient, Steve Derman.

In my pre-PD days, my husband Tom and I enjoyed bicycling in the Canadian Rockies, and took week-long bicycle trips in California, Vermont and Wisconsin. Since being diagnosed with PD in 1996, my bicycle riding has almost come to a halt.

Why this study fascinated me:

During a bike ride across Iowa in 2003, Dr. Alberts rode on a tandem bike with Cathy Frazier, a person who had Parkinson's. The patient was forced to pedal much faster than she would have normally – between 80 RPMs and 90 RPMs (revolutions per minute) as opposed to between 50 RPMs and 60 RPMs.

Then in 2006, Dr. Alberts rode again with another Parkinson's patient and also a neurologist, Dr. David Heydrick. This patient depended on a surgically implanted device called deep brain stimulation to control his symptoms. If the device was turned off, his symptoms returned immediately. Dr. Alberts and the patient went on a 50-mile tandem bike ride with the stimulator turned off, and to their delight, the patient had no symptoms.

In his clinical study at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Alberts has patients come in over a period of eight weeks, three days a week for a one-hour tandem bike ride session. Results show after the eight weeks, patients have on average a 30-percent improvement in their symptoms. Two weeks after the study is over, patients still have about a 20-percent improvement.

Dr. Alberts says with medication patients typically have slightly less improvement. And with deep brain stimulation, patients have between about 30 and 40 percent improvement, which is about the same.

But as he points out, "If you stop taking medication, the disease symptoms come back within a few hours, and these often have side effects. And with deep brain stimulation, you turn the stimulator off and the symptoms come back almost immediately." He's excited by the fact that the symptomatic improvement from tandem exercise is sustained for weeks.

Patients are working the lower half of their body – yet symptoms in their upper half improve. Dr. Alberts says, "That suggests that we’re changing the way the brain is actually functioning."

I wonder what Davis Phinney would say about this approach to treating PD.

In the meantime, Tom and I will try to rig up something in the basement to simulate “forced exercise” on our exercise bike at a rate of 80-90 RPMs.

Related stories at following links:

Motor Function Improvements with Tandem Bicycling-NeuroTalk Communities

Researchers Study Power of Pedaling to Dull Parkinson's-National Parkinson Foundation

Researchers Study Power of Pedaling to Dull Parkinson's-The Plain Dealer

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