March 17, 2003

Juncos uses spirituatlity to treat Parkinson's disease

By Janet Christenbury

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 said.

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 at 404-778-7777.