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Parkinson's study explores improved function

Special to the Courier

Parkinson's disease affects more than 1.5 million people in the United States. In addition to visibly affecting patients' motor functions, producing tremors, rigidity, gait problems and unstable posture, it also results in cognitive impairment.
However, new research suggests individuals with Parkinson's disease can improve impaired cognitive function through passive leg cycling.

An assistant professor in exercise science at Kent State University recently published research showing a correlation between individuals with Parkinson's disease riding a motorized bike and significant improvements in executive function.

Through her research, Dr. Angela Ridgel discovered individuals riding a motorized bike - a bike that moves the legs to facilitate passive exercise - at varying speeds experienced improved scores and reduced completion times on cognitive tests.

Ridgel's research was published in the April 2011 edition of the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.

"Parkinson's disease results in decreased cognitive function as well as motor function. We previously demonstrated the impact of exercise on motor function, so we applied exercise to understand if it can also improve cognitive function," said Ridgel. "Subjects exhibited improved executive function after passive cycling. These findings suggest passive exercise is a viable therapy for cognitive decline in Parkinson's disease."

The study indicates individuals with Parkinson's disease can improve their ability to complete everyday tasks controlled by executive function, such as driving a car or more accurately anticipating, processing and compensating for changes in landscape while walking, e.g., hills, obstacles and stairs.

An assistant professor in Exercise Science-Physiology, Ridgel received her undergraduate degree in Biology from The College of William and Mary in Virginia, a Master's degree in Biology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and her Doctoral degree in Biomedical Sciences from Marshall University in West Virginia. Ridgel completed her post-doctoral training at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic.

Her early work used animal models to examine the neurobiology of movement and the effects of aging on movement.

Most recently, she has been interested in how aging and neurological disorders limits exercise and movement in humans.

Ridgel's current research project examines the effects of exercise mode and rate on improvements in motor function, cognition and balance in Parkinson's disease.