Trial on way to increase exercise for Hispanic patients now recruiting

New approach testing patient-to-patient support for more physical activity

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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A trial investigating the feasibility and impact of a novel approach for increasing regular exercise among Hispanic people with Parkinson’s disease — the ethnic group in the U.S. with the highest incidence of the neurodegenerative condition — is now recruiting participants.

The aim of the new approach is boosting the regular physical activity of Hispanic patients — with the help of other Hispanic people with Parkinson’s.

“There is evidence that exercise, when appropriately dosed and applied early in the disease, can slow down the progression of the Parkinson’s, but we know that not everyone is aware of this,” Cristina Colón-Semenza, PhD, a Puerto Rican researcher who serves as an assistant professor of kinesiology at the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources at the University of Connecticut (UConn), said in a university press release.

Enrolling patients through UConn’s Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, the study will use mobile health technology and virtual meeting platforms to recruit participants across the U.S. and its territories.

“This study will help this community by understanding if this intervention [is] feasible, acceptable, and appropriate,” added Colón-Semenza, who will lead the trial.

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Parkinson’s is caused by the progressive loss of nerve cells producing a main chemical messenger called dopamine. This leads to the disease’s hallmark motor symptoms, including tremor, stiff muscles, and slow movement.

Reduced physical activity has been shown in past studies to be among the factors linked to a faster motor decline in these patients. Increasing evidence suggests that regular physical activity eases Parkinson’s motor symptoms and can help slow disease progression.

However, although Parkinson’s affects Hispanic people more than other ethnic groups in the U.S., most studies investigating the beneficial effects of regular exercise among patients have mainly included white and highly-educated individuals. This means that Hispanic patients may be unaware of this approach’s therapeutic potential.

“Although exercise can have profound effects on disease management, in a survey of Hispanics with the disease in the New York City area, the majority indicated that exercise was not important,” Colón-Semenza said.

To tackle these issues head-on, Colón-Semenza and her team are launching this study to focus on this underserved population. They will evaluate whether support from another person with Parkinson’s can help increase a patient’s physical activity.

Although exercise can have profound effects on disease management, in a survey of Hispanics with the disease in the New York City area, the majority indicated that exercise was not important.

The study was designed using current technology and virtual meeting platforms to allow patients to be recruited across the U.S.

The team will then investigate whether regular exercise lessens symptoms and improves quality of life in this and other studies.

To educate Connecticut’s Hispanic community regarding the benefits of physical therapy, exercise, and strength, Colón-Semenza and her team members have also engaged in outreach activities. The team attended a Puerto Rican Day parade in Hartford earlier this month, educating festivalgoers the importance of regular physical activity.

She also hosts a series of webinars, all conducted in Spanish, in collaboration with the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA), on the role of regular exercise in the management of Parkinson’s.

Her next webinar is scheduled for Nov. 14, and will be made available via the APDA online video platform.

“Through these various studies and outreach efforts, we will learn if completely remote interventions are a potential method of interaction for interventions,” Colón-Semenza said.

“We plan to continue to collaborate with the American Parkinson Disease Association to improve access to culturally and linguistically tailored health information to this underserved population,” she added.