American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise
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The Parkinson’s Foundation recently developed specific competencies for exercise professionals working with clients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), as well as criteria for programs that educate and train exercise professionals. These competencies build upon widely accepted exercise guidelines for healthy populations and specify the expectations for how exercise professionals should design and deliver programs and provide leadership to individuals with PD. 

What Was ACE’s Role in this Project? 

Todd Galati, MA, ACE Senior Director of Credentialing and Practice Advancement, served on the Parkinson’s Foundation’s Exercise Competencies Leadership Committee and worked alongside a diverse group of experts that included medical doctors, physical therapists, education and training providers, researchers and representatives from the Parkinson’s Foundation.  

“Exercise has been increasingly validated and accepted as an adjunct treatment for Parkinson’s disease and is associated with improving the quality of life and slowing the decline of mobility that is part of living with PD,” Galati explains.  

The goals of this project were to help exercise professionals understand the types and amounts of physical activity that provide important benefits to people with PD, and to establish competencies to position exercise professionals to safely and effectively work with people with PD.  

In addition, the project established criteria for exercise education programs, while the Parkinson’s Foundation developed an accreditation program that recognizes education programs that cover the competencies outlined below. This was important, Galati says, because of the realization that, while exercise is viewed as extremely effective for those with PD, the background, education and training of the exercise professionals who work with people with PD might not be consistent.  

The framework for exercise professionals working with clients with PD outlines the competencies that exercise professionals should have to safely design and deliver exercise programs for people with PD. The competencies are organized into the following five domains: 

  1. Foundational information on the diagnosis, treatment and role of exercise: This includes a basic understanding of the disease and the role that exercise plays in improving the quality of life for people with PD, as well as how PD can increase injury risk and other complications due to exercise. 

  1. Screening for people with PD to participate in exercise: This begins with selecting appropriate health-risk screening tools and physical assessments, as well as identifying appropriate exercise options based on the results of those screenings and considerations for each client’s abilities, risk and personal goals. 

  1. Group/individual exercise design for people with PD: This section outlines the professional’s role in designing exercise plans in accordance with the Parkinson’s exercise recommendations, explains how to modify the class/program design to accommodate varying ability levels and details how to respond to safety-related incidents. 

    • Be sure to review the exercise recommendations linked above, as well as this infographic, as they outline guidelines for aerobic activity; strength training; balance, agility and multitasking; and stretching, and provide direction regarding the types of exercise that are most appropriate in each of those categories, as well as specific considerations for each.  

  1. Exercise leadership for people with PD: Human behavior and counseling: This section explains how exercise professionals can teach, cue and model exercises for people with PD, in addition to providing appropriate progressions and regressions. In addition, the professional should incorporate behavior-change strategies in order to promote adherence and engagement in the program. 

  1. Interprofessional communication and program development: This involves building a network of professionals who work with people with PD and understanding the scope of practice and role of each professional. In addition, exercise professionals can play a key role in encouraging clients with PD to seek appropriate care, including physical therapy. 

If you are currently working with clients with PD or are interested in doing so, check out the Parkinson’s Foundation’s resources for exercise professionals. In addition to an informative video covering the new exercise guidelines, you can learn more about which organizations have met the Foundation’s criteria for providing educational programs and continuing education courses. By pursuing education through these organizations, you can be sure that your knowledge and expertise will be aligned with the competencies outlined above and that you will be well positioned to empower individuals with PD to enjoy a better quality of life. 

To learn more about how physical activity can benefit individuals with PD, read Exercise Programming for Clients with Parkinson’s Disease and The Benefits of Boxing Programs for Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease. 

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