Serene S. Paul, PhD

Name of Institution:

Department of Physical Therapy, University of Utah

Project Title:

Impact of dopamine and practice on postural motor learning in Parkinson’s disease


Serene S. Paul, PhD (Post-Doctoral Researcher and Grantee)

Dr. Paul is an Australian physiotherapist with clinical expertise in neurological and aged care rehabilitation. She completed her PhD in October 2013, having investigated fall risk and leg muscle power in people with PD. This research involved the development of a simple screening tool that may be used by clinicians to quickly determine fall risk in people with Parkinson’s Disease and identification of targets for intervention to reduce fall risk and increase mobility in people with PD. Dr. Paul’s postdoctoral research focuses on examining neuromuscular coordination of balance in people with Parkinson’s Disease and in older adults in order to improve interventions targeted at decreasing falls and fall risk and improving mobility and quality of life for people with PD.

Lee Dibble, PhD (Postdoctoral supervisor)

Research Objectives and Relevance to Diagnosis/Treatment of PD:

Exercise and balance rehabilitation improves motor symptoms, balance, and mobility and prevents falls, thereby improving quality of life for people with PD. The ability to learn, relearn or refine motor skills forms the basis for any successful exercise or rehabilitation program. Yet there is currently little information about the factors which impact on learning in people with PD. Additionally, rehabilitation treatments for people with Parkinson’s Disease have generally been delivered with little regard for participants’ learning abilities or limitations. While levodopa medication can effectively reduce some symptoms of PD, such as slowness, tremor and stiffness, these medications may not improve or may worsen other symptoms such as motor learning ability and impaired balance. The results of this project will clarify the benefits and limitations of levodopa medication for motor learning, thereby informing how pharmacological and physical therapies can best be combined to safely prescribe exercise and rehabilitation programs for people with Parkinson’s Disease in order to maximize their learning and benefit from such programs.

2016 Progress Update:

Through February 2017, 15 participants are enrolled in this study with a goal of enrolling 15.   An extension on this study was granted through May 2017.