The University of Rhode Island is conducting a study in which they are exploring how technology can support the nutritional needs of Parkinson’s patients.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease of the nervous system that affects mostly middle-aged and older adults. The disease affects a person’s movement, making it harder for them to move fast and/or accurately.

The study is being organized by Dara LoBuono, a third-year Ph.D. student studying nutrition and food sciences within the College of Health Sciences. LoBuono was inspired to start this research because she wants to “help increase access to nutrition where it is a low burden on participants. And what do people currently know, because there is not much out there on nutrition interventions for Parkinson’s.”

Another imperative member of the team of researchers is Ingrid Lofgren, an associate professor in the department of nutrition and food sciences. Her role in the research is the principal investigator, acting as LoBuono’s advisor.

The study has been looking at the nutritional needs of Parkinson’s patients. Many are unaware of the link between Parkinson’s and nutrition, however, the team is looking into what can be done to help. Lofgren mentioned how nutrition can be linked to Parkinson’s through eating habits.

“Parkinson’s patients have a hard time lets say holding a spoon, so they may be embarrassed to eat, so they are eating less or not eating as much, so they lose weight, which impacts their nutritional status… so it’s a negative spiral,” Lofgren said.

Along with LoBuono and Lofgren, the team of researchers is made up of a number of different people. There are undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty. Lofgren explained that this research is highly interdisciplinary, so within their team of researchers they have incorporated many different areas of interest.

The student involvement consists of both undergraduate and graduate. “The graduate students are managing a lot of it, and the undergraduate students are doing a lot of the work, but they are paired up with Dara, following her instruction,” Lofgren said.

Along with the nutritional issue, Parkinson’s patients have many different doctors and therapies they must incorporate into their schedule. LoBuono explained that “physical therapy, speech therapy are all effective in helping maintain quality of life and functioning independently. But these different therapies are time-consuming, there is no room to see a dietitian on top of everything else.”

Due to the time constraint on Parkinson’s patients, LoBuono shared that, “For me, part of it was, okay, between doctors appointments and therapies, there really isn’t time to see a dietitian. People aren’t getting referred to a dietitian, and they don’t really know that nutritional changes can help manage Parkinson’s.”

With this in mind, LoBuono has been in the recruitment process, looking for pairs of participants that include a Parkinson’s patient along with their caregiver. LoBuono is still in the recruitment process, and if you are interested or know someone who may be interested, can be contacted by email at lipidlab@etal.uri.edu or by phone at 401.874.2785.