Helping Patients Move and Improve

Physical therapy enhances quality of life for people with neurodegenerative diseases

Dana Lykins, PT, DPT, brings hope and healing to patients with neurological movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, by providing outpatient physical therapy services at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute. She is UK HealthCare’s first and only neurospecific physical therapist.

“The misconception sometimes is that the neuro population doesn’t get better, and that’s why I think some therapists steer away from it,” Lykins said. “But research has shown that people with Parkinson’s can get better and stay better, and their quality of life is much improved if they’re doing the right type of therapy and exercise. Two years after I start seeing them, they are actually moving better than they were when they were diagnosed with Parkinson’s.”

Parkinson Wellness Recovery

Lykins utilizes a program called PWR! (Parkinson Wellness Recovery) as the framework that guides her practice in helping patients with varying types of movement disorders. “PWR! is a research-based, neuroplasticity-principled approach that helps improve symptoms, restore function and increase quality of life for people with Parkinson’s, as well as other neurodegenerative diseases,” Lykins said. “The key exercises provide the building blocks of everyday functional mobility, with a focus on large amplitude movements, high effort and cognitive engagement. It allows us to address issues such as walking, flexed posture and decreased weight shift, which can negatively affect one’s ability to roll or scoot in bed, get up from a chair and balance.”

Lykins’ goal is to retrain patients’ brains and help them regain the skills that have been lost or diminished because of their neurological disorder.

Increasing awareness

In addition to helping her patients, who make up a very underserved population, Lykins is committed to increasing awareness about the need for and benefit of neuro-specific physical therapists across Kentucky. Through outreach education, she has helped bring the PWR! framework of neurological physical therapy to 16 Kentucky counties.

“There’s always been this misperception that there isn’t enough of a neuro population in the rural areas for a therapist to specialize in it or even take neuro continuing education courses, and that is not the case,” Lykins said. “One of my former patients took what she learned here and started a support group in the little town of London, and they now have over 40 people with Parkinson’s who exercise and learn together and support each other.”

Lykins’ goal is to have a PWR!-certified physical therapist in every county. She continues to help educate more professionals through outreach and continuing education alongside her efforts to give her KNI patients more independent, fulfilling lives in spite of their degenerative neurological conditions.