It is still unclear why people get Parkinson's, but doctors believe genetics, or environmental toxins, or even using street drugs, can each cause the brain to stop making an important chemical transmitter called dopamine.
But now, local therapists have a different way to enhance patients' quality of life.
To watch Sylvia Huete, 77, making big movements and loud cheering noises with her physical and occupational therapists at Touro, you'd never know she had Parkinson's.
She remembers the day her doctor gave her the news.
"And he said, 'You have Parkinson's.' And I said, 'Oh.' And I thought life had come to an absolute end," said Huete. And he said, 'Don't worry about this. You're not going to die of Parkinson's. You're going to die of something else entirely.'
With a Ph.D. and law degree, Huete has always had a very active life and she didn't want to slow down now. So she turned to a new type of therapy called LSVT BIG.
"It's a very structured program that focuses on big movement patterns, movements that require a lot of effort with the idea that by using big movements and increased effort, that it actually helps someone with Parkinson's to be able to move more naturally," said Touro occupational therapist and clinical specialist Frannie Bienvenu.
She says she has been able to help Huete cut the time it takes to get dressed in half. Her physical therapist Melissa Naquin has helped her with walking better, balance and getting up after sitting.
The second part of her therapy is called LSVT LOUD and keeps Parkinson's patients from mumbling, and talking too softly.
"They don't realize that they are not speaking as loud as they used to and they sometimes say their spouse or their friends need hearing aids, rather then they're the problem," explained Touro Speech Language Pathologist Lynne Lee. She has patients repeat phrases and sentences after she enunciates words, using exaggerated mouth movements. She tells patients to think about being loud and projecting in their brains and that way, the voice comes out normally. She also uses a device that measures the decibels of each sentence the patient speaks.
Her neurologist was surprised at first that he noticed a big difference.
"I noticed a big difference in her. I didn't have to make any adjustment in the medications. But when she came back, she'd been doing the therapy for a full month. She was speaking much clearer, more loudly. She was more animated. Her gate was better. She was sitting up straighter and I was surprised that something like that could effect that big of a change in patient," said Dr. Charles Fiore, a neurologist from the Culicchia Neurological Clinic on the West Bank who practices at Touro.
Huete says she used to fall every other month, but she says since she started this BIG program, she hasn't fallen at all. And you'll notice something else. When she is doing the physical therapy she's also working on and rehearsing her LOUD program.
"Oh it's made a huge difference and the assertion that I have now, the confidence is unbelievable, good," said Huete with a big smile.
Therapists also say these programs could help people with strokes, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and brain injuries.
For more on the programs: http://www.lsvtglobal.com/
For more on the Touro Neurological Rehabilitation program: http://www.touro.com/content/rehab_neuro.htm