Parkinson’s Patients, Physical Therapy Students Teach Each Other

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by Lori DePorter |

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Educating future members of Parkinson’s care teams is a way to contribute to the Parkinson’s community. Like others with the disease, I have participated in clinical trials, research studies, and classroom visits. And over the last two years, I’ve been inspired as part of my participation in both Zoom and in-person classroom labs with physical therapy graduate students. These students’ enthusiasm to learn and gain a better understanding of their future patients made for a rewarding experience for all involved.

Zoom lab and breathing exercises 

We Parkinson’s patients were evaluated by physical therapy students from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia over Zoom. Despite the virtual platform, these future therapists were extremely perceptive and were not fooled. They noticed the nuances that I do my best to hide, including bradykinesia and coordination issues. However, the most enlightening observation was made about my shallow breathing, a symptom I never knew about myself, but later discussed with my neurologist. 

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An Open Letter to My Neurologist

Breathing problems are not commonly associated with Parkinson’s. However, numerous respiratory issues, including shortness of breath, dyskinesia, restrictive lung disease, aspiration pneumonia, and sleep apnea can be attributed to Parkinson’s. For me, shallow breathing could be a result of chest wall rigidity and a stooped posture. My neurologist suggested a device called the Breather, a drug-free respiratory muscle trainer, in addition to diaphragmatic breathing exercises. 

I have since incorporated diaphragm breathing and deep belly breathing into my daily routine and have experience multiple benefits. I’m taking in more oxygen and breathing out more carbon dioxide, my heart rate has slowed, my blood pressure has stabilized, my anxiety and depression have eased up, my ability to deal with stress has improved, and I have seen improvements to my speech, posture, and core strength.

Back in the classroom

I also spoke to a group of physical therapy students at Messiah University. I was extremely anxious and nervous; my tremor was front and center. Normally, this is an unfortunate circumstance. However, this time it was a teaching moment. The students witnessed the physical symptom of my tremor as a direct result of a nonmotor symptom, my anxiety. 

As they asked questions, both my anxiety and tremors subsided. They were anxious to learn, and as patients, we had experiences to share. To demonstrate the benefits of music and exercise, the students were given equipment that we use in our fitness class. First, they used a resistance trainer called Spin Strong, a simulated jump rope developed by Phillip Davies, who is a person with Parkinson’s.

Later, they learned basic boxing punches and how to hold focus mitts. Both the lab participants and I worked our way around the room to act as patients for the different groups.

As class ended, it was clear that these future physical therapists are more than ready to be part of our care teams. It was a pleasure to see a bright future in the treatment of people with Parkinson’s.

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


EDWARD L. FOX avatar



Lori DePorter avatar

Lori DePorter

Consult your physician about seeing a Physical Therapist. You can visit for information on that program.


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