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February 20, 2003


Can Spirituality Improve Quality of Life in Parkinson’s Disease Patients?
Emory Researchers Begin Study in Search of Answers

ATLANTA -- Some forms of complementary and alternative medicine are becoming more widely accepted in the fight against chronic diseases and disabilities.. But can the most intangible of complementary interventions -≠ things such as spirituality, prayer and training in holistic health -- work to improve the quality of life, brain functioning and movement in patients with a progressive illness like Parkinson's disease?

Emory University researchers are studying that question in a clinical trial sponsored by The Emory Center for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in Neurodegenerative Diseases. The center, which also includes research projects focusing on herbals like valerian root, Oriental exercise techniques and magnetic stimulation, is supported by a 5-year, $6.2 million grant awarded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

"The aim of the spirituality and holistic wellness study is to determine the relative value of these interventions at improving quality of life and motor symptoms in Parkinsonís disease patients," says Jorge L. Juncos, MD, scientific advisor to the study and associate professor of neurology, Emory University School of Medicine. "Although these interventions are indeed less tangible than, for instance, a surgical procedure, there are numerous testimonials that support the notion that these practices make a great difference in quality of life (QOL) in general, and in the QOL during illness in particular. Perhaps unfortunately, very little of this information has come from rigorous scientific research. This debate has come to a head as members of society, insurance companies and government try to decide whether these and other CAM interventions are legitimate line items in a dwindling health care budget," Dr. Juncos points out.

Why study spirituality and holistic wellness in patients with Parkinsonís disease? As a group, these patients have been noted by many to gravitate towards spirituality as evidenced by their participation in support organizations, and by their willingness to make the most out of helping each other in these groups, according to Dr. Juncos. As is the case in many chronic illnesses, exposure to disability seems to further heighten their sensibility to the truth in the statement: "It is what is inside that counts," Dr. Juncos remarks.

Participants in this study will be randomly assigned to one of two interventions complementary to traditional medicine: pastoral and spiritual healing or hands-on education in holistic health. Those in the spiritual healing sessions will work individually with one of two ministers who serve as principal investigators in this study. Reverend Kathleen Kiley, a proclaimed spiritual healer, will lead some of the study participants through spiritual healing sessions. A minister with the Universal Brotherhood Ministry, Rev. Kiley has experience working with patients who have both chronic and acute illnesses using integrative approaches. "More and more people seem to be in search of these complementary and alternative modalities to improve their well-being," says Rev. Kiley. Nicholas Demetry, M.D., who is a local psychiatrist and minister with the Church of Wisdom, will conduct spiritual healing sessions as well.

The spiritual healing sessions held by Revs. Kiley and Demetry will use energy flow, prayer, visual imagery, ministerial counseling and laying on of hands to take these participants to a higher level of consciousness, according to Rev. Kiley. In all sessions, prayer is tailored to the individual and thus it may range from non-denominational to denominational. Those assigned to hands-on holistic health and wellness education will meet in a group setting and learn about common alternative therapies in current use from respected members of the CAM community in Atlanta. Some of the topics to be covered are herbal therapy, art therapy, pet therapy, dance and movement therapy and nutrition seminars.

Results from controlled and prospective studies using spirituality to improve wellness in patients with AIDS, cancer and other diseases have been mixed. This, however, is the first study of its kind to test spirituality in patients with Parkinsonís disease, according to Dr. Juncos. If the results from this pilot study prove favorable, new phases of this research will likely follow.

To enroll in this study, participants must be between the ages of 45 to 80 and have early to moderately advanced stages of Parkinsonís disease, without significant memory problems. Participants must be willing and able to attend the training sessions or hands-on seminars once a week for 13 consecutive weeks. The sessions will be held in Buckhead or Marietta. Medications will remain unchanged during the study. Parkinsonís disease motor function, cognition, emotional well-being and spiritual development will be evaluated at the beginning and at the end of the study using various questionnaires and bedside tasks. For more information, or to find out if you may be a candidate for this study, please call Emory Health Connection at (404) 778-7777.

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