Parkinson’s Disease Clinical Trials Under Way At University of Maryland

November 12, 2012

Parkinson’s Disease Clinical Trials Under Way At University of Maryland

People suffering from Parkinson’s disease often suffer from memory problems. Clinical studies at the University of Maryland are hoping to discover if a combination of memory training techniques and walking exercises can prevent this memory loss. The University of Maryland is searching for 90 volunteers for these clinical trials. Volunteers will be divided into three groups to compare the findings. The trials are expected to last about six months.

The clinical trials will take place at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Baltimore Veterans’ Administration Medical Center. The latter has treadmills designed for patients with mobility issues. All treadmill exercises will be done under supervision by physiologists to prevent falls. Memory exercise games will be done on computers at both locations. The clinical trials are being funded mostly through a Veterans’ Administration Merit Award.

Building on Stroke Studies

The inspiration for these clinical trials on Parkinson’s patients stems from similar studies in Maryland on stroke patients. Balance problems and losing the ability to walk are major challenges for people after they have had a stroke. Stroke patients that exercised regularly on treadmills improved than stroke patients that did not exercise. Even years later, stroke patients that exercised by walking could still walk without falling.

Sometimes, the patients balance and walking ability improved. Why would that happen in a brain damaged by stroke? Richard Mako, MD, theorizes that the constant action of walking helps the brain adapt by making new neural pathways, or new ways for the brain to communicate commands to the body. Parkinson’s disease also damages the brain, so perhaps walking could help their brains make new neural pathways. This also may help to improve their memories.

Memory Problems in Parkinson’s Patients

People with Parkinson’s disease suffer from a specific type of memory problem called executive function failure. When people learn new information and apply it to their lives, they are using an executive function. Without executive function ability, people cannot hold down a job, drive or take care of themselves properly if a new symptom or crisis should develop.

Volunteers in the clinical studies will play computer games to test their memories. These games were designed by neurologists to specifically test executive function abilities. They will work out on a treadmill three times a week for three months. They will be tested again during this time period and again three months after the treadmill exercises stop.

About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is common in Europe and North America. Every year in America, about 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with this disease. Over time, people with Parkinson’s disease are unable to control their own bodies. Medications for the disease often cause balance problems or uncontrollable movements. The disease is incurable. Many people with Parkinson’s become deeply depressed to the point of attempting suicide.

There is also hope that use of the memory computer games without exercise may cause an improvement in the executive abilities of patients with Parkinson’s disease. One of the three groups of volunteers will skip the treadmill exercises and just play the computer games. In this way, two clinical trials can be held simultaneously.

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