Hindered sensory processing in Parkinson’s disease (PD) has been contended to contribute to balance deficits. Exercises aimed at improving sensory feedback and body awareness have the potential to ameliorate balance deficits in PD. Recently, PD SAFEx™, a sensory and attention focused rehabilitation program, has been shown to improve motor deficits in PD, although balance control has never been evaluated. The goal of this study was to measure the effects of PD SAFEx™ on balance control in PD. Twenty-one participants with mild to moderate idiopathic PD completed 12 weeks of PD SAFEx™ training (three times/week) in a group setting. Before training, participants completed a pre-assessment evaluating balance in accordance with an objective, computerized test of balance (modified clinical test of sensory integration and balance (m-CTSIB) and postural stability testing (PST)) protocols. The m-CTSIB was the primary outcome measure, which allowed assessment of balance in both eyes open and closed conditions, thus enabling evaluation of specific sensory contributions to balance improvement. At post-test, a significant interaction between time of assessment and vision condition (p=.014) demonstrated that all participants significantly improved balance control, specifically when eyes were closed. Balance control did not change from pre to post with eyes open.
These results provide evidence that PD SAFEx™ is effective at improving the ability to utilize proprioceptive information, resulting in improved balance control in the absence of vision. Enhancing the ability to utilize proprioception for individuals with PD is an important step towards improving balance deficits.