Parkinson’s Balance Test

If a person has Parkinson’s Disease, it may impact their postural reflexes and, in turn, their balance and gait. Conduct this test to check on your patient and determine what you can do to help manage the disease.

By Matt Olivares on Jul 15, 2024.

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Fact Checked by RJ Gumban.

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What is the Parkinson’s Balance Test?

Before discussing the Parkinson’s Balance Test properly, let’s talk about one way Parkinson’s Disease can impact a person.

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological condition. This disease impacts people by causing unintended and uncontrollable movements. Their limbs experience tremors, they shake, and sometimes their limbs become stiff. All these problems caused by the disease can greatly impact a person’s balance and coordination, making them prone to falling, and if they fall, it could result in more unwanted complications.

The Parkinson’s Balance Test was developed to gauge the effects of Parkinson’s Disease on a patient’s gait and balance. It is mostly used as a monitoring test to help concoct treatment and disease management plans. Though, it can be used as a screening test for patients suspected of having Parkinson’s Disease. After all, a patient may already have the disease but hasn’t been diagnosed yet.

If you’ve been reading our guides about other Parkinson’s Disease-related tests like the Bradykinesia Test, Parkinson’s Rigidity Test, and the Parkinson’s Tremor Test, you will notice that for all three of those tests, patients are seated and only have to perform a few actions depending on the test. For the Parkinson’s Balance Test, they will mostly be standing up.

Check out this video to see how the Unified Parkinson's Rating Scale can be used to assess Parkinson's Disease in patients:

How to conduct the Parkinson’s Balance Test

Before you conduct the Parkinson’s Balance Test, there are two things you need to do. The first one is to prepare two chairs. One of the tests requires a chair. Ensure the chair has a backrest, so your patient doesn’t accidentally fall backward. The other thing you need to do is make sure you are beside your patient at all times to assist them and save them from falling.

  1. Sit-to-Stand Test
  • Prepare a chair for your patient. We recommend placing them right by a wall. Make sure the backrest is facing the wall, too. This is so the patient doesn’t fall backward by accident.
  • Have your patient cross their arms on their chest and maintain their arms crossed for the duration of this segment.
  • While their arms are crossed, have them stand up, then sit down again. While they’re doing this, keep one of your hands behind them to prevent them from falling and hitting their head on the wall.
  • Have them repeat this about ten times.
  • If they’re having difficulty standing up, you can consider that as a sign that they might have Parkinson’s Disease.
  1. Free Walking Test
  • Ensure that there is enough space for the patient to walk around your clinic. The ideal distance for this test is ten feet.
  • Mark a ten-foot distance on the floor with marking tape.
  • Have your patient walk back and forth several times. It’s up to you how many. Just make sure they do it enough times for you to decide that you’ve gotten what you need based on observations.
  • While they walk back and forth, keep an eye out for the following: loss of arm swings, loss of heel strike, if the length of their strides lessens over time, and if they lose balance whenever they turn around.
  1. Pull Test
  • You must be careful with this one. Have your patient stand near a wall.
  • Stand behind the patient with your back against the wall. Make sure there’s a little space between you and the patient.
  • Explain this test to your patient so they know what’s up.
  • Ask them if they’re ready. If they are, you may begin the test.
  • Pull on the patient’s shoulders to try and make them fall backward.
  • The patient must correct their center of gravity in just a step or two. If the patient takes more than two steps to correct their center of gravity, or if they aren’t able to, then they are positive for this test.
  • Make sure to be ready to catch them any time if they are about to fall.

That’s it! After each segment, jot down your observations.

When is it best to conduct the Parkinson’s Balance Test?

There are two appropriate times when you should conduct the Parkinson’s Balance Test.

The first one is for screening a patient for Parkinson’s Disease. A patient may already have it before setting up an appointment with you, so they just need an official diagnosis.

It’s best to screen patients for the possibility of Parkinson’s Disease first before endorsing them for scans and neurological tests. You need to screen them for the following symptoms:

  • Bradykinesia, which is the slowness of movement
  • If their arms, legs, and/or trunk are showing signs of rigidity (there is resistance to passive movement)
  • If there are tremors in their limbs
  • If they have trouble maintaining their balance and are prone to falling

You must conduct a comprehensive examination that includes not only the Parkinson’s Balance Test but also the Parkinson’s Rigidity Test, Parkinson’s Tremor Test, and the Bradykinesia Test. If you’re conducting the Parkinson’s Balance Test as a screening test, it cannot be the sole test used to determine a diagnosis. You should conduct other tests because it’s possible to misdiagnose a patient, so it’s best to cover as much ground as possible.

The other appropriate time is during routine check-ups. This is so you can check how far the disease has progressed and how negatively impacted their gait and balance is. The results should help determine how to best manage the disease, given its current effects on the patient.

What are the benefits of the Parkinson’s Balance Test?

It’s a great test to conduct for screening patients for the possibility of Parkinson’s Disease.

We mentioned earlier that before you consider endorsing patients for scans and neurological tests, you need to check if they are eligible for them. To do this, you must conduct screening tests. While the Parkinson’s Balance Test is often used on patients as a monitoring test, it can be used as a screening test as well for those who have yet to be diagnosed.

It should be conducted alongside the Parkinson’s Rigidity Test, Parkinson’s Tremor Test, and the Bradykinesia Test so that you can detect all possible symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and have enough ground covered that the patient will be eligible to take scans and neurological tests, as well as have a better chance at avoiding misdiagnoses.

The Parkinson’s Balance Test is easy to conduct.

The Parkinson’s Balance Test is easy to conduct. It only requires a chair for one component and measuring tape and sticks for another. Other than those, you don’t need any special equipment to conduct it.

While this test is easy to conduct, it might be difficult for the patient. This is a balance test, after all. If the patient already has Parkinson’s Disease, then it’s likely that their gait and balance have been negatively impacted. You need to make sure that you are beside your patient at all times, ready to provide support and catch them if they lose their balance.

It can monitor patients and determine what goes into a treatment plan.

Let’s stipulate that you are handling a patient officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Let’s also stipulate that you have developed a treatment plan for your patient, and they have been following it. Naturally, you’d want to know if your patient is improving, so you can conduct the Parkinson’s Balance Test and other tests to check if they are getting better and if the plan is working.

Unfortunately, Parkinson’s Disease can’t be cured, but it can be managed! As we stated earlier, Parkinson’s Disease can impact the gait and balance of a patient to the point that they become prone to falling. If you conduct this test as part of a routine check-up and you noticed that their gait and balance have been negatively affected, you can make adjustments to your plan that accommodates physical therapy and other ways to address the gait and balance abnormalities of your patient.

Is the Parkinson’s Balance Test, on its own, enough to diagnose a patient with Parkinson’s Disease?
Is the Parkinson’s Balance Test, on its own, enough to diagnose a patient with Parkinson’s Disease?

Commonly asked questions

Is the Parkinson’s Balance Test, on its own, enough to diagnose a patient with Parkinson’s Disease?

No. The Parkinson’s Balance Test only checks if the patient has abnormalities with their gait and balance. It doesn’t check for other symptoms, so it won’t give you the full picture of the patient. Also, just because a person has gait and balance problems, it doesn’t mean they result from Parkinson’s Disease. They might be old or have suffered an injury that caused the problems.

After conducting the Parkinson’s Balance Test, what other tests should I conduct?

You should conduct tests that check for Bradykinesia, rigidity, and tremors. It’s best to do these before conducting scans and neurological tests.

Is the Parkinson’s Balance Test risky?

Somewhat. Patients might fall depending on how badly Parkinson’s Disease has affected them. That’s why part of the instructions is for the healthcare professional to be always beside the patient to provide support and prevent them from falling if they lose their balance.

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