CSU study uses yoga to reduce risk of falling for Parkinson’s patients

Charlotte Lang

Woman speaks while on her laptop
Laura Swink, CSU graduate, has completed her occupational therapy research study, focusing on how to live successfully with Parkinson’s. (Susie Heath | Collegian)

Patients with Parkinson’s disease incorporated a fusion of yoga and occupational therapy into their routines as part of a recent Colorado State University study to reduce their risk of falling.

Laura Swink, a Ph.D. student in occupation and rehabilitation science, has been working with the Raintree Athletic Club in Fort Collins and her advisor, associate professor Arlene Schmid, to study the combined effects of occupational therapy and yoga on such patients.

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The study took place at an adaptive yoga for Parkinson’s program at Raintree Athletic Club, Swink said. She had been volunteering at the program—led by Jennifer Atkins—and decided to adapt the occupational therapy part of the program and partner with the class.

What I can share is that participants loved the social component of the program and were very motivated to help each other and share insight on what they have changed to reduce fall risk.”

Laura Swink, Ph.D. student in occupation and rehabilitation science

Swink’s research follows a study Schmid conducted in 2014 on the impact of yoga and occupational therapy on those who have experienced a stroke. The 2014 study also focused on and showed positive results for reducing the risk of falls.

“My advisor, Dr. Schmid, first developed the Merging Yoga and Occupational Therapy (MY-OT) program—a fall risk self-management program for individuals with chronic stroke,” Swink wrote in an email to The Collegian. “She had discovered that yoga improved balance (but not fall risk factor management), and group occupational therapy improved fall risk factor management (but not balance).”

Swink wrote that, together, yoga and group occupational therapy that was focused on identifying and reducing risk factors improved both the balance and risk factor management.

Swink then proceeded to search for similar effects in Parkinson’s patients, adapting the occupational therapy part of Schmid’s program to fit the needs of those with Parkinson’s disease.

“I developed the MY-OT intervention for stroke and (Swink) then worked with experts and people with Parkinson’s to modify it to be more appropriate for people with Parkinson’s disease,” Schmid said.

In June 2017, Swink applied for a small student grant through Lee Silverman Voice Treatment Global, a program with a mission to “improve the speech and movement of people with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions,” according to their page.

LSVT Global funded Swink’s study from January 2018 to December 2018.

In April of last year, Swink interviewed experts and asked people with Parkinson’s what they would want to be included in the program.

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In this study, participants served as their own controls, so Swink assessed participants in August 2018 and then began the intervention in October 2018.

“Participants in the study then (took part) in an hour of yoga and an hour of group occupational therapy twice a week for eight weeks,” Swink wrote.

The owner of Raintree Athletic Club donated conference room space so that participants could easily move from the occupational therapy part right to the yoga studio, Swink wrote.

“In the yoga part, Jennifer Atkins led the class through guided breath work and graded postures from seated, standing and supine positions,” Swink wrote. “I am a registered occupational therapist and I designed the occupational therapy part to include some lecture, discussion and activities to help identify and manage risk fall factors.”

Atkins, a yoga instructor with the Raintree Athletic Club for over eight years, said she’s been conducting Adaptive Yoga classes for almost six years. At the club, she teaches ongoing weekly classes to people with Parkinson’s disease.

Atkins said Swink has been working with her for almost two years as a highly valued assistant in the yoga class.

“My regular students have commented on the value of her program for them and we have gained a few more students from it,” Atkins said. “They know the importance of practicing mindful movement everyday—which is exactly what we do in my classes.”

Atkins also said that the management and front desk staff for Enlight Studio within the athletic club have been dedicated and committed to providing ongoing support.

“These special members of our community are very grateful for this opportunity to safely participate and improve the quality of everyday life while living with PD,” Atkins said.

Swink wrote that she’s always had a passion for working with those with Parkinson’s disease and that she wanted to work occupational therapy around their needs.

“Falls are a huge concern for people with Parkinson’s, and oftentimes people fall multiple times in a year—which can have devastating consequences,” Swink wrote.

Now, Swink is beginning to analyze the results of the study.

“What I can share is that participants loved the social component of the program and were very motivated to help each other and share insight on what they have changed to reduce fall risk,” Swink wrote.

Charlotte Lang can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @chartrickwrites.