Neuroplasticity in Parkinson’s Disease – Lauren Turner AEP


Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative neurological condition which affects the central nervous system’s (brain and spinal cord) ability to communicate due to a reduction of the neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is released from the neurons which make up neural pathways within the brain. Whilst it is commonly associated with movement difficulties, Parkinson’s disease can affect the whole brain and therefore people with Parkinson’s disease can experience not only motor impairments but also experience cognitive, emotional and sleep disturbances.  The following are impairments that people with Parkinson’s disease may experience:


Motor Impairments:

  • Resting tremor – involuntary/shaking movements
  • Bradykinesia – reduced speed and amplitude of movement
  • Rigidity – resistance to movement/stiff movement
  • Freezing of gait
  • Apraxia – difficulty motor processing and planning
  • Dyskinesia – erratic writhing movements
  • Dystonia –
  • Postural instability


     Non-Motor Impairments:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Cognitive Impairment
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Autonomic Dysfunction


As a result of these challenges, people with Parkinson’s disease are at a higher risk of living sedentary lives and having reduced quality of life. This higher risk is of concern; whilst many who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease have been prescribed medication to help manage symptoms of the disease, exercise has been the only intervention to slow symptom progression in Parkinson’s disease. This means that interventions such as deep brain stimulation and Parkinson’s related medication does not slow the progression of the disease.


Exercise aids in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s disease through a process called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the process in which the brain reorganises its neural pathways with the aim of optimizing neural function. However there is one key component that is required and must be included in any exercise routine for this to occur. The exercises being performed must be challenging the person both physically and mentally through the form of new/challenging movements or activities. This could be achieved through challenging coordination and cognition, dual-tasking, multi-joint movements or learning new skills. This stimulates neurogenesis and synaptogenesis which leads to the production of new neurons within the brain and their ability to transfer information. Therefore, this process drives new rewiring within the brain to improve efficiency, power, scale, and amplitude of movement for those with Parkinson’s disease.


Whilst neuroplasticity is usually spoken about in a positive light, it can also result in the loss of neural connections if they are not being utilised (neurodegeneration). Therefore it is crucial for those with Parkinson’s disease to avoid sedentary behaviour in the aim to slow the progression of the disease.