Rehabilitation for Individuals with Genetic Degenerative Ataxia: A Systematic Review

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Background. Treatment of genetic degenerative ataxia is currently based on symptom management and maintenance of function. However, utilization of rehabilitation is limited due to a lack of evidence supporting its efficacy. Objective. This systematic review evaluated rehabilitation interventions for individuals with genetic degenerative ataxia. In addition, long-term outcomes from rehabilitation and optimal duration and intensity of rehabilitation were examined. Methods. A comprehensive search of 4 databases (MEDLINE, CINAHL, PEDro, and Cochrane) identified randomized, nonrandomized controlled, and cohort studies published from inception through to January 2016. The studies included at least one measure examining function, ataxia, balance, or gait. Methodological quality was assessed with the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Hierarchy of Evidence and the randomized controlled trials were rated according to the PEDro scale. Results. Seventeen studies met eligibility criteria. Five randomized controlled trials were included; however, the majority were classified as level III-3 and IV studies. Of 292 participants included, 148 had autosomal dominant ataxia, and 85 had autosomal recessive ataxia. Rehabilitation interventions included coordination and balance training, multifaceted inpatient rehabilitation, a cycling regime, balance exercises with technology assisted biofeedback, respiratory muscle training, and treadmill training. Two studies examined adjuncts to rehabilitation. Fifteen of the 17 studies demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in at least 1 outcome measuring ataxia, function, gait, or balance. Less than half of the studies included assessment of long-term outcomes and follow-up time frames varied considerably. Conclusion. There is consistent evidence that rehabilitation improves function, mobility, ataxia, and balance in genetic degenerative ataxia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)609-622
Number of pages14
JournalNeurorehabilitation and Neural Repair
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • ataxia
  • cerebellar ataxia
  • mobility
  • physical therapy
  • rehabilitation
  • walking

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