Trial highlights benefits of exercise on Parkinson’s symptoms

Friday, 20 May 2016

Clinical trials day

Today is International Clinical Trials Day, celebrated around the world on or near the 20 May each year, to commemorate the day that James Lind started his famous trial on the deadly disease scurvy.

It provides a focal point to raise awareness of the importance of research to healthcare.

Dr Johnny Collett, Research Fellow from the Movement Science Group (MSG) at Oxford Brookes University talks about a recent clinical trial looking at the benefits of exercise intervention on people with Parkinson’s disease:

“People with long term conditions often find it difficult to take part in exercise and may find themselves in a negative spiral of becoming less active due to the impairments of their condition, which in turn leads to physical decondition making activity even more difficult. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that exercise can reduce the impact of many conditions and benefit aspects such as symptom, mobility, health and wellbeing.  

“One focus of the work of the MSG, which sits within the Centre for Rehabilitation, in the Oxford Institute for Nursing and Allied Health Research at Oxford Brookes is to develop and evaluate practical ways to enable people with long-term, specifically neurological, conditions to exercise.  

Colleagues and I strongly believe in involving people with the condition in the entire research process so that the research is done with patients not to patients; and it was actually people with Parkinson’s who came up with the idea of a handwriting programme for the control group.

Dr Johnny Collett, Research Fellow, Movement Science Group at Oxford Brookes University

“This recent trial investigated effectively delivering a specifically designed exercise programme for people with Parkinson’s using community facilities. The trial was a feasibility study; a type of study that is focused on answering question’s around ‘can it be done’ and ‘how might it work?’ and is carried out before embarking on a study asking ‘how effective’ a treatment is. 

“We utilised a randomised controlled design, the best methodology to produced trustworthy results. For the trial, we needed the control group to be engaged in an activity that was not exercise in order to make an effective comparison. Colleagues and I strongly believe in involving people with the condition in the entire research process so that the research is done with patients not to patients; and it was actually people with Parkinson’s who came up with the idea of a handwriting programme for the control group.

“Problems with handwriting are an important issue for those with Parkinson’s, and this proved to be a really effective way of engaging people so that the control group achieved its purpose. 

“The exercise group in the trial were given a programme involving six months of going to a gym at a community leisure facility aiming to visit twice a week. The first session at the gym was with an appropriately qualified physiotherapist or exercise professional who introduced them to the gym environment, instructed them on the equipment and an exercise program, and ensured they could competently and safely follow it. The participants then followed the programme using an exercise booklet and were supported once a month to monitor and progress the intervention. Similar support was also given to those doing handwriting. 

“The results of the study are very encouraging as we found that, as expected some people did more than others, but in general people with Parkinson’s were able to safely follow the exercise program autonomously, with just a little professional support using community gym facilities.

“Whilst, the study did not aim to determine how effective the programme was, we found that the exercise programme could have the potential to benefit the symptoms of Parkinson’s that effect movement and walking. To determine this properly we need to do a follow on study involving more participants and in different areas of the country. The results of this clinical trial have given us the foundations to do this.” 

The study was in collaboration with the Oxford Primary Care Clinical Trials Unit, University of Oxford and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), research for patient benefit program. 

A new survey of local residents shows that 93 per cent of people in the Thames Valley (Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Milton Keynes) feel they could make a positive contribution to public health by taking part in clinical research. 

The study, led by Professor Janine Dermody and Dr Robert van der Veen from Oxford Brookes surveyed 506 local residents across the region and was commissioned by the NIHR Clinical Research Network Thames Valley and South Midlands, the local research delivery arm of the NHS.