Motor Problems May Precede Parkinson's

Stiffness, tremors and loss of balance could be telltale signs, study finds

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TUESDAY, Jan. 10, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults who suffer stiffness, tremors and loss of balance may have an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease in later years, a new study says.

Dutch researchers examined 6,038 older adults who did not have Parkinson's disease (PD) or dementia. The study volunteers provided information about their motor skills, including any problems with tremors, stiffness, falling, slowness or balance. More than half reported at least one of these complaints.

The study participants were then tracked for an average of 5.8 years. Of the 56 people who developed Parkinson's disease during the study, 71.8 percent had reported at least one motor complaint and 41 percent had reported at least two such complaints.

"Our findings support the notion that clinically manifest PD is preceded by a preclinical phase that is not entirely asymptomatic," the study authors, from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, wrote.

"Subjective complaints related to motor function might indicate a very early phase of not-yet-diagnosable PD during which dopamine loss is not sufficient to produce overt typical PD symptoms but may result in subtle signs that are very mild or only intermittently present and therefore not likely to be detected in routine screening or examination," the authors wrote.

They noted that screening for these kinds of motor complaints wouldn't be effective in detecting Parkinson's disease. That's because a large percentage of older adults who have these kinds of symptoms don't develop the disease.

However, as researchers pinpoint more biological markers of Parkinson's disease, assessing motor skill complaints in older adults may help narrow down those who should have brain imaging, psychological testing or other tests for early diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, the authors added.

The study appeared in the Jan. 9 online edition of the Archives of Neurology.

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SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Jan. 9, 2006

Robert Preidt

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