URI Researcher Seeks Parkinson’s Patients, Caregivers for Nutritional Study

Dara LoBuono,a Ph.D. candidate in nutrition and food sciences at URI’s College of Health Sciences and the study’s research coordinator. Photo Credit — University of Rhode Island

University of Rhode Island (URI) has recently begun a study, “Tailoring Digital Health to Improve the Nutrition and Health of People with Parkinson’s Disease and Their Caregivers,” to determine how technology could assist  people with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers by providing easily accessible, and  relevant nutrition information. The study’s research team were motivated to find a solution that would make it easier for people with Parkinson’s and caregivers to keep up with nutrition information relevant to their specific needs, without adding additional demands on their time.

“Nutrition isn’t usually included in the care plan for Parkinson’s until the end of disease progression,” says Researcher Dara LoBuono, a Ph.D. candidate in nutrition and food sciences at URI’s College of Health Sciences and the study’s research coordinator. “For example, when a patient needs tube feeding,” she said in a November 5th statement announcing the study.

Taking a Look at Technology and Nutrition

LoBuono says that side effects experienced by people with Parkinson’s disease, both from the debilitating disease and from the medications used to treat it, often affect one’s desire and ability to eat—and in turn, nutrition.

To help teach people with Parkinson’s in healthy eating, URI’s Lipid Lab recently began a new study to determine how technology — such as social media forums for sharing tips and recipes, or Skype sessions with a nutritionist — might help support dietary interventions and nutrition management for people with Parkinson’s.

LoBuono is conducting the research alongside principal investigator Ingrid Lofgren, an associate professor in nutrition and food sciences.

Adds, LoBuono, “People with Parkinson’s can experience constipation, decreased appetite or binge eating, weight loss, changes in taste, difficulty swallowing, and other side effects that end up playing a role in their food choices or make it difficult to manage proper nutrition.” She notes, For example, a person on a pureed nutritional diet may develop a liking of ice cream and mashed potatoes, while someone who loses their ability to detect thirst could become at risk for dehydration.

In addition, diet can have an impact on certain prescription drugs — such as the way carbidopa-levodopa, normally used in the treatment of Parkinsons, is absorbed less effectively if taken in combination with too much protein. “Managing nutrition can become challenging, especially for the caregiver who handles all the cooking and grocery shopping,” says LoBuono.

According to LoBuono, many treatments for Parkinsons, such as speech therapy or physical therapy, are effective but time-consuming. A person may go to therapy sessions several times a week, also having “homework” or maintenance exercises to do after training, on top of their doctor’s appointments.

“We wanted to find out what caregivers and people with Parkinson’s disease already know about nutrition, and how they access that information, as well as their willingness to use technology, so that we can understand how better to support their needs,” says Lo Buono.

Specifics about Study

URI’s Parkinson’s study, is enrolling people with Parkinson’s with their caregivers to attend four  assessments (one in person, and three by phone) that include interviews about diet, exercise, digital competence, and disease burden. Study participants will be required to complete two 24-hour detailed logs of food and beverages consumed in a 24-hour period. At the conclusion of the four sessions, each participant receives tailored dietary recommendations from a registered dietitian, based on their assessment of the submitted data.

LoBuono predicts that the URI study will ultimately identify nutrition interventions that can improve the health trajectory of people with Parkinson’s. “The Parkinson’s community is a really motivated group of people,” says LoBuono, noting that “They have a lot of interest in learning changes they can make to improve diet and health, and it’s rewarding to be part of that.”

Those details or enrolling in the URI study, contact LoBuono at lipidlab@etal.uri.eduor 401.874.2785.

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