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 quality of life, brain functioning and movement in patients
with a progressive illness like Parkinson’s disease?
Emory researchers are studying that question in a clinical trial
sponsored by the Center for Research on Complementary and Alternative
Medicine (CAM) in Neuro-degenerative Diseases. The center, which
also includes research projects focusing on herbals like valerian
root, Oriental exercise techniques and magnetic stimulation, is
supported by a five-year, $6.2 million grant from 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 Parkinson’s disease
patients,” said Jorge Juncos, scientific advisor to the study
and associate professor of neurology. “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 QOL during illness in particular.
“Perhaps unfortunately, very little of this information has
come from rigorous scientific research,” Juncos said. “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.”
As a group, Parkinson’s patients have been noted by many to
gravitate toward spirituality, as evidenced by their participation
in support organizations, according to Juncos. 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. Rev. Kathleen Kiley, a proclaimed spiritual healer, will
lead some participants through spiritual healing sessions. A minister
with the Universal Brotherhood Ministry, Kiley has worked with patients
who have both chronic and acute illnesses using integrative approaches.
Nicholas Demetry, a local psychiatrist and minister with the Church
of Wisdom, will conduct spiritual healing sessions as well.
“More and more people seem to be in search of these complementary
and alternative modalities to improve their well-being,” Kiley
The sessions held by Kiley and Demetry will use energy flow, prayer,
visual imagery, ministerial counseling and laying on of hands to
take participants to a higher level of consciousness, Kiley said.
In all sessions, prayer is tailored to the individual and thus may
range from ecumenical to denominational.
Participants assigned to hands-on holistic health and wellness education
will meet in a group setting and learn from respected members of
Atlanta’s CAM community about common alternative therapies
such as herbal therapy, art therapy, pet therapy, dance and movement
therapy, and nutrition.
Results from studies using spirituality to improve
wellness in patients with AIDS, cancer and other diseases have been
mixed, Juncos said. This study, however, is the first of its kind
to test spirituality in patients with Parkinson’s.
To enroll, participants must be between 45–80
years old and have early to moderately advanced stages of Parkinson’s
disease, without significant memory problems. They must be willing
and able to attend the training sessions or hands-on seminars (held
in Buckhead and Marietta) once a week for 13 consecutive weeks.
Participants’ medications will remain unchanged
during the study. For more information, call Emory Health Connection