Cycling with Parkinson’s disease

The following is an except from an ABC news article

Medical scientists are baffled by a phenomenon in which sufferers of Parkinson’s disease who cannot walk are able to ride bikes and ice skate.

A doctor in the Netherlands who specialises in Parkinson’s disease has written a case study on one of his patients who is unable to walk but rides kilometres on his bike every day.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, has attracted similar stories from around the world.

Doctors suspect it may have something to do with the way humans store special memories.

Neurologist Bas Bloem from the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands thought he had seen it all in his years of caring for Parkinson’s patients, that is until he met a 58-year-old man who could not walk.

“He had freezing of gait – the mysterious phenomenon where the people really feel as if their feet are glued to the floor,” he said.

Video footage of the man shows him taking a tentative shuffle, his hands shaking by his sides, then he freezes and falls to the ground.

“This man told me he’d been on his bicycle for like 50 miles just the other day and that he was doing this on a regular basis and I said, ‘you know that is impossible, you can’t possibly ride a bike’,” Professor Bloem said.

“And he said, ‘Yeah, yeah I can ride a bike’.”

Video footage of the man cycling around the hospital car park shows his movements as fluid and he looks controlled and happy.

An outsider would be forgiven for thinking it was a different person.

The man leaps off the bike – a more subtle version of jockey Frankie Dettori’s famous flying dismount – then his symptoms return and he forgets how to walk.

A stunned Professor Bloem asked 20 other severely affected patients about riding a bike; it turned out they could all do it.

He suspects the motor program for cycling is stored in a different part of the brain than the one needed for walking.

“Or, perhaps, patients when they cycle are able to explore other areas of the brain that are still healthy in Parkinson’s disease in order to support the rhythmic movements of their feet,” he said.

About Peter Bartlett