Occupational Therapy For Spinocerebellar Ataxia: An Overview

Spinocerebellar Ataxia is a genetic neurodegenerative condition for which there is currently no cure, although it can be managed to a large extent with treatment. The most effective Ataxia treatment involves symptom-based rehabilitation to help the patient overcome individual impairments and be as functional as possible. In this context, Occupational Therapy plays a key role in enabling the patient to eat, dress, and move around independently, thus improving the quality of life around the house, as well as in social environments. Here, we take a closer look at Ataxia and Occupational Therapy and how the latter can enhance the patient’s quality of life.

Understanding Spinocerebellar Ataxia

Spinocerebellar Ataxia, spinocerebellar atrophy, or spinocerebellar degeneration is a genetic disease caused by either a recessive or dominant gene. It refers to a group of ataxias that are known to be hereditary and cause harm to the cerebellum, the part of the brain which maintains balance and controls movements. Spinocerebellar Ataxia may result in non-coordinated gait, impaired hand-eye coordination, and abnormal speech. Because this condition affects the nervous system, it is also known as a nervous disorder. Spinocerebellar Ataxia has no cure, but can be managed with a tailored Ataxia treatment program that includes Stem Cell Therapy.

Symptoms of Spinocerebellar Ataxia

There are several subtypes of Spinocerebellar Ataxia that all manifest somewhat differently. There are, however, several symptoms they have in common. Things to look out for:

  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Uncoordinated walking
  • Loss of fine motor skills
  • Speech problems
  • Spasticity
  • Fatigue

Occupational Therapy and Ataxia

As the Spinocerebellar Ataxia progresses, the patient will gradually lose the ability to perform the essential daily tasks of life. Occupational Therapy is a form of Ataxia treatment in which the patient learns how to independently perform tasks like eating, washing, and getting dressed. It makes use of various exercises to strengthen the gross and fine motor skills needed to accomplish those tasks, while also teaching the patient how to use various assistive devices that can make the task easier. 

An occupational therapist will analyze the patient and assess their ability to perform daily tasks on their own, the nature of the tasks they need to perform, the kind of environment they live and work in, the kind of physical assistance that is accessible, as well as the patient’s own preferences. They will then work with the patient to develop a program best suited to their specific needs and impairments. There are four main aspects to this:

  • Strategies and techniques, including functional exercises and tips on dealing with fatigue
  • The use of assistive devices such as specially designed cutlery, electronic devices with bigger buttons, and voice-activated software for communication
  • The use of mobility aids to get around better, such as crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs
  • Changes to the environment to maximize patient safety and comfort, such as installing rails around the house for support or using non slip mats to avoid falls

The objective of Ataxia Occupational Therapy is to help the patient be as independent as possible, in terms of both necessary personal activities and recreational pastimes. Some of the interventions the occupational therapist might make include

  • Guiding the patient towards articulating their own impediments
  • Obtaining more information about those impediments through questionnaires
  • Suggesting the removal of architectural barriers in the house to make it safer
  • Finding ways to help the patient conserve energy while completing tasks 
  • Working with the patient’s family to involve them in support, such as asking someone to drive the patient about
  • Researching other support services such as for physical therapy

It is important for the patient to keep practising whatever the occupational therapist recommends, as repetition is crucial for results. Moreover, if they feel any discomfort during an exercise or the use of a device, they should tell their therapist immediately. They should also inform their therapist about any worsening in symptoms so that the therapist can determine whether more advanced aids might be necessary.

Other treatments for Spinocerebellar Ataxia

The objective is to maximize the patient’s quality of life by enabling safe and independent behavior at home and in workplace or social settings. Typically, an entire healthcare team will be involved in providing holistic treatment to the patient. Apart from Ataxia Occupational Therapy, other types of treatment include:

  • Physical Therapy: This involves various exercises to strengthen and stretch the patient’s muscles for improved functionality, better coordination, improved gait, and reduced pain. The physical therapist will recommend tailored exercises to improve gross and fine motor skills, correct spasticity, and reduce the risk of muscular or bone deformations.
  • Speech Therapy: As the Ataxia affects voluntary movements like speaking and swallowing, Speech Therapy is necessary to improve control over the muscles in the mouth, tongue, and jaw. The speech therapist will guide the patient through exercises to improve articulation, chew food properly, swallow safely, and control their breathing.
  • Stem Cell Therapy: This is a highly promising form of Ataxia treatment in which the patient’s own cells are used to help regenerate the cells damaged by the Spinocerebellar Ataxia.

FAQs

How do you treat Ataxia?

Treatment options for Spinocerebellar Ataxia include Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Stem Cell Therapy, Nutritive Stem Cell Therapy, and Neurorehabilitation.

Which sport activity is effective for the management of Ataxia?

Patients with Ataxia are advised to perform cardiovascular activity for good overall health. Treadmill training is an effective sporting activity that helps with balance and gait in addition to maintaining fitness levels.

Can cerebellar Ataxia be cured?

There is currently no cure for Spinocerebellar Ataxia, although Ataxia treatment can significantly improve the symptoms for the patient.

Can rehabilitation help Ataxia?

A tailored rehabilitation program with the right exercises has been demonstrated to slow down the progression of Ataxia and improve coordination and balance.

What vitamin is good for Ataxia?

Studies have shown that Vitamin E supplements can mildly improve the symptoms of Spinocerebellar Ataxia when taken in the early stages.

What kind of doctor treats Ataxia?

Spinocerebellar Ataxia is a neurodegenerative condition, and so you will be recommended to a neurologist. A geneticist may also be involved to assess exactly which subtype of Spinocerebellar Ataxia you have.

Can steroids help Ataxia?

Some studies have demonstrated the efficacy of steroids in improving Spinocerebellar Ataxia symptoms, but they are not a standard prescribed treatment.

Can dehydration cause Ataxia?

Ataxia is caused due to damage to the cerebellum. As such, dehydration cannot cause Ataxia, though it may increase the likelihood of an onset of symptoms.

What are the 3 types of Ataxia?

There are three types of Ataxia depending on the cause. These include acquired Ataxia, genetic Ataxia, and idiopathic Ataxia (when the cause is unknown).

Is Ataxia a neurological disorder?

Spinocerebellar Ataxia affects the working of the central nervous system and is thus classed as a neurological disorder.

Can Ataxia cause memory loss?

Patients with Spinocerebellar Ataxia may exhibit a variety of cognitive problems related to learning, remembering, and decision-making.

Is Ataxia a terminal disease?

Spinocerebellar Ataxia will generally shorten the lifespan, with most patients living only into their 50s or 60s. In more severe subtypes, the life expectancy may be only until early adulthood.

Does Ataxia affect the eyes?

As the Ataxia affects the cerebellum and brainstem, the patient may experience problems with vision and eye movement.

How quickly does Ataxia progress?

The rate of progression of Ataxia depends on the particular subtype the patient has and the age of onset.In conclusion, given the role of appropriate Ataxia treatment in determining outcomes for patients, starting Occupational Therapy early is crucial. The occupational therapist can help you make thoughtful decisions about your habits, personal space, and workplace to help you live as independent and fulfilling a life as possible.

Dr Na'eem Sadiq is a respected stem cell specialist at Plexus, and a prominent neurologist in Bangalore. He studied neurology and clinical neurophysiology in London, and worked with some of the most prestigious medical institutions in England, and the Middle East. He completed his MBBS at Bellary Government Medical College, and a postgraduate degree in psychiatry from NIMHANS in Bangalore.

Dr Na'eem has perfected his knowledge and expertise in Continuing medical education (CME), and training in tissue culture, Stem Cell Therapy, and neurology. Dr Na'eem Sadiq possesses an undying passion to improve people’s lives. This led to the creation of Plexus, a neuro and Stem Cell Research centre in Bangalore in neurosurgery, and neurorehabilitation.