The Importance of Balance Training for those living with Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease and Falls

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive condition that affects the nervous system and can present with various symptoms including muscle tremors, rigidity, slowed small movements and shuffling.

People living with Parkinson’s Disease have a much higher risk of falls due to postural instability, gait abnormalities, fatigue and cognitive impairments. Their ability to correct balance is compromised as the overall function of the brain’s complex motor circuit is disrupted. It is estimated 28-36% adults aged 65 years old or more reported to fall at least once per year, whereas the incidence of older adults with Parkinsons disease is 35-90%. These statistics place people living with Parkinson’s Disease at a higher risk of physical injury and hospitalisation. Exercise and balance training can improve the ability to perform balance-related activities in people with Parkinson’s disease as well as walking and overall mobility.

What is Balance Training?

Balance training involves exercises that strengthen muscles that keep you steady and challenge a person’s ability to control body movement and posture. The two main types balance training include:

  • Static Balance Exercises:
    • Training to maintain good posture in a stationary position e.g. standing on one leg for as long as possible
  • Dynamic Balance Exercises:
    • Training to maintain good posture and body awareness when moving e.g. walking on a unstable surface

Both types of training are beneficial to reduce the risk of falls in people living with Parkinson’s Disease as they build core strength, increase our awareness of our body’s positioning and ability to react when we are unexpectedly off balance. Static exercises are simpler and might be best for someone being introduced to balance training for the first time. Over time, as their confidence improves, you may then progress to dynamic balance exercises that mimic everyday activities  such as walking around the shops. It is best to seek advice from an Exercise Physiologist on the most appropriate starting point to engage someone in balance training and manage their Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.

Safety Considerations

In order for the brain and muscles to facilitate adaptation to static and dynamic training and improve balance, the person needs to be challenged. This may mean placing them in an unsteady environment or position which may be daunting such as standing on a soft mat unsupported. Key safety considerations for a person living with Parkinson’s disease to engage in balance training include:

  • Performing exercises near a wall or high bench top so they can grab for support in the event they become unsteady or off balance
  • Ensuring there is someone else in the room to spot them e.g. exercise physiologist, carer or family member
  • Performing exercises when least fatigued as this type of training requires a lot of concentration and people can find it exhausting
  • Ensuring adequate rest breaks
Other benefits?

So as mentioned, balance training is an excellent way to assist reducing the risk of falls, building a person’s confidence to being an active member in their community and preventing hospitalisations due to fall related injuries. However, there are additional benefits of balance training for those living with Parkinson’s Disease including

  • Introduction of new and novel activities- the act of learning new things assists in improving cognition and keeps the brain active as well as the body.
  • Increase exposure to dual tasks – Balance exercise generally involves coordinating upper limb, trunk and lower limb and this is important for navigating and moving around in real life situations.
  • If attending a group strength and balance class, social interaction with others who are going through the same experiences can strengthen the support network around them and empower them to make lifestyle changes to better manage their Parkinson’s disease.

Just as little as 5min a day can help someone living with Parkinson’s disease to reduce their risk of falls and improve their overall quality of life. Medicine in Motion run specific Parkinson’s exercise classes in our Shell Cove clinic with Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Susie Seitaridis every Monday that focus on balance training for those looking for more guidance from an exercise physiologist. As with starting any exercise program, the key is starting small and then gradually building up from there. 

To learn more about our Parkinson’s Group Exercise Class, click here or call our friendly team on 4208 5129.

To book an initial consultation and assessment with one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists at one of our many locations across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, you can book online or call our friendly team on 4208 5129. 


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