WLU centre makes strides

According to the Parkinson Society of Canada, nearly 100, 000 Canadians currently live with the debilitating neurodegenerative disease. This number does not take into account the thousands of Canadians who suffer from other neurodegenerative diseases and movement disorders.

Most who suffer from Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders struggle to find suitable treatment that can help to ease the severity of their symptoms. Despite extensive research, little has been discovered about how to curb the effects of neurodegenerative and movement disorders.

Since it was established in 2007, the Laurier Movement Disorder Research and Rehabilitation Centre (MDRC) has been on the cutting edge of movement disorder and Parkinson’s research and treatment, gaining both local and international recognition.

The MDRC, which operates out of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Northdale Campus, offers assessment and treatment for patients ranging in age from their early twenties to geriatric patients.

Director of the centre Dr. Quincy Almeida explained that unlike other movement disorder facilities, at the MDRC researchers “aim to understand the disease first then proceed to an appropriate treatment.”

Every room in the centre is utilized to assess the various symptoms of neurodegenerative illnesses including speech, balance and cognitive skills. This, in turn, allows the staff to isolate specific issues that must be addressed and through the use of state of the art equipment attempt to reduce the effects of their symptoms.

The centre boasts a large staff comprised of six faculty members, 15 Laurier graduate students and 150 Laurier undergraduate students. Dr. Almeida credits the astonishing success of the program to the Laurier students who work there. “The centre would not run without them,” he said.

Trish Knobl, a second-year master’s student who works at the MDRC began volunteering there early in her undergraduate degree at Laurier.

“Within the MDRC it’s not just the exercise programs that are going on, you have a lot of research going on behind the scenes as well,” she said.

She added, “I love the interaction with the patients.”

“You get to know the patients really well and you get to help them progress through the exercises, which is great because you get to see the benefits and they’re so grateful that you’re able to help them. It’s just a really rewarding experience.”

It was, in fact, a WLU undergraduate student’s thesis that provided a breakthrough in early detection methods for Parkinson’s disease. Upon further testing of the ideas presented in the thesis, it was discovered that the monitoring of speech is an incredibly useful tool in the diagnosis and treatment processes.

The MDRC has thrived as a result of such active student participation. Dr. Almeida explained, “This kind of hands-on learning is invaluable. Students take away so much from it.”

The ongoing success of The Movement Disorders Research and Rehabilitation Centre has no signs of slowing down. Starting next Monday, Sept. 20, the Centre will begin a new rehabilitation program with 200 Parkinson’s patients. The program will look to curbing the progression of the disease using new treatment methods. Almeida is optimistic about the future of the MDRC.

“The time is right for Laurier and for this program,” he said.

“I feel like it’s almost defined my experience at Laurier,” Knobl said of her time at the MDRC, especially dealing directly with patients.

Getting so much experience from the MDRC has really opened my eyes to what I want to do in the future.”

–With files from Mike Lakusiak