Nayden Clinic Study Focuses on Advancing Parkinson’s Treatment Options

Results of a potentially groundbreaking study on how to best gauge whether patients with moderate to severe Parkinson’s disease are effectively responding to treatments will be presented by two Nayden Rehabilitation Clinic graduate students and their advisors this fall.

Overseen by Neag School of Education Department of Kinesiology clinical instructors Cristina Colon-Semenza and Laurie Devaney, the study was not just the first neurological rehabilitation study conducted at the Nayden Clinic, but the largest of its kind in the nation.

What makes the research so important, Colon-Semenza said, is that its goal is not just to provide rehab clinicians with better tools to assess Parkinson’s patients progress, but to help ensure Parkinson’s patients are living the highest-possible quality lives.

“Parkinson’s is a tricky disease in that not all people respond to medications in the same way, and  most need very individualized treatments,” said Colon-Semenza, who also founded and oversees the Nayden Clinic’s weekly Parkinson’s exercise group. “Determining what tests and measures can most effectively gauge a patient’s mobility will, in turn, help clinicians provide the most effective treatments.”

More than 60 patients of varying ages, and representing a diverse range of cultures and disease progression, participated in the seven-month study, which examined the relationship between Parkinson patients’ gait speed and their overall functional abilities. Doing most of the hands-on work to gather the needed data and log participants’ walking ability, distance and speed were Doctor of Physical Therapy Program students Jesse Lang and Thomas Kassan, who now are working with Colon-Semenza and Devaney to synthesize and interpret the results.

The study illustrates the Nayden’s Clinic commitment to not just providing the best possible rehabilitative care, but advancing it. Results will be presented this fall to UConn Department of Kinesiology faculty and peers, as well as at the Connecticut Physical Therapy Association’s annual conference, Colon-Semenza said: “We’re hoping this will be the first of many neurological rehabilitation research studies coming out of the clinic.”

She’s also hoping news of the study will help shine a light on the services the Nayden Clinic provides Parkinson’s patients, which include an exercise group that meets Fridays from 8 to 9 a.m.  A board-certified neurologic clinical specialist, Colon-Semenza also recently underwent the needed training to become certified in the Lee Silverman Voice Training BIG program that has provided Parkinson’s patients—along with stroke and other neurological patients— “exciting” voice, speech, motor skill and physical therapy improvements.

“Exercise and physical rehabilitation are the big focus of what we do at the Nayden Center, but I’ve also watched real friendships and camaraderie form between our Parkinson’s patients, which helps battle the depression and isolation that can come along with this disease,” she added. “The best care is always holistic care—care that treats body, mind and spirit. It’s exciting for me to see us doing so much for Parkinson’s patients, who too often aren’t able to access the wide range services they need. The services the Nayden Clinic offers, coupled with this new study, have the potential to offer Parkinson’s patients a chance for remarkable improvements.”