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09-09-2016

Clarkson University PT Professor Leads the Way in Parkinson's Care

Healthcare experts expect the number of people who have Parkinson's disease to double by 2030, so Clarkson University educator Rebecca Martin is dedicated to teaching up and coming physical therapists how to best treat their patients with this diagnosis.

Rebecca MartinMartin is a licensed physical therapist and a Board Certified Neurologic Clinical Specialist, as well as a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Clarkson University. Now, she is also a Parkinson's Disease Foundation Faculty Scholar. She was one of six physical therapy faculty and five nursing faculty selected to go to a four-day training session at Boston University in August.

“I spent a day at the clinic with the top neurologists at Boston University Medical Center,” she says. “We went from top to bottom on all the latest research on treating people with Parkinson's disease. They were willing to share all their knowledge so we faculty can go out and educate as many people as possible. The goal of the program is to train physical therapy faculty to be extremely knowledge about most care that people with PD receive so that we can pass this knowledge along to our students. We hope that in turn, our students will pass it along to their peers after they graduate and we can really get the word out there about how to best care for these individuals.”

Martin has been sharing her real-life experience at Clarkson, where she has taught neuromuscular coursework for three years. In addition, she practices physical therapy at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, where the majority of her patients has Parkinson's or has experienced a concussion.

“Parkinson's disease is more common in the North Country than people realize,” she says. “When I first started practicing here, I was surprised to not see many people with Parkinson's. Then I reached out to a local neurologist and learned they were seeing more than 200 people with Parkinson's in the Potsdam clinic alone. So, I completed more continuing education, spoke with some of the local neurologists, and started seeing some patients with Parkinson’s disease. Now they are coming out of the woodwork.”

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects nearly one million people in the U.S. and over 10 million worldwide, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Parkinson’s disease is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer's. It's associated with a loss of motor control (e.g., shaking or tremor at rest and lack of facial expression), as well as non-motor symptoms (e.g., depression and anxiety). Although promising research is being conducted, there is currently no cure for Parkinson's disease.

Physical therapy can improve the quality of life for those with Parkinson's disease, though. Exercise is the main tool we have to slow the progression of the disease and make the patient feel better, Martin says.

“Someone gets this devastating diagnosis and after coming to physical therapy for a while, I often hear them say something like 'This really has given me my life back.' It's exciting to get to share experiences like this, and to help them to change their lives,” she says. “I want people to know that there are definitely things they can do that can really improve their quality of life.”

Many times, people don't realize they have Parkinson's disease, so treatment is delayed. Two of the earliest symptoms are sleeping problems and a loss of the sense of smell, Martin adds. People may experience changes in their handwriting or they may stub their toes more often.

“It's really important for students to learn about these symptoms, so we hopefully can catch the disease earlier,” she says.

For those who do receive a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, a local support group meets at 2 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month at Clarkson Hall, 59 Main St., Potsdam. Normally about 18 people show up each month to share information about nutrition, medication, treatment, assistive devices, etc.

Martin is on the board of the Seaway Parkinson's Coalition and is trying to raise local awareness and provide a better support system. The Coalition aims to help people travel to medical appointments or arrange for caregivers to come to someone's home.

“I hope anybody who needs support will reach out. I'm happy to answer questions,” she says. She can be reached by email at rmartin@clarkson.edu or by telephone at 315-268-1652. More information about Parkinson’s disease and its early symptoms can also be found at www.parkinson.org or www.pdf.org.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, N.Y., and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, New York, Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/rmartin.jpg .]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or aharrison@clarkson.edu.]

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