October 4th, 2010
05:20 PM ET

Clues found to early Parkinson's deaths

A study published Monday found that  Parkinson’s disease patients who scored worst on movement tests and those suffering from dementia or psychotic episodes such as hallucinations all faced a higher risk of dying earlier from the disease.

Tremors by themselves were not a risk factor, and neither anti-psychotic nor anti-Parkinson’s drug treatments affected survival, research published in the current issue of the  journal Neurology concluded.

The 12-year Norwegian study looked at 230 Parkinson’s patients, 211 of whom had died by the end of the research.

“Remarkably, time of death for these people took anywhere from two to 37 years from diagnosis, so it’s important we try to identify those risk factors that lead to an early death so we can find ways to increase a person’s life expectancy,” lead researcher Dr. Elin Bjelland Forsaa said in a statement.

Patients in the study lived an average of 16 years with Parkinson’s. The average age at death was 80 for men and 82 for women.

The cause of Parkinson’s is not known, and there is no cure. People develop Parkinson’s when clusters of cells in the midbrain die, cutting down production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for coordinated muscle movement.

As a result, unmedicated Parkinson's patients tend to have muscle rigidity, lack of facial expression, a stooped posture, halting gait and tremors.

Doctors are only able to treat Parkinson’s symptoms, usually by replacing dopamine with the drug L-dopa. No treatments currently exist to slow the progression of the disease.

“Our findings suggest that treatments to prevent or delay the progression of movement problems, psychosis and dementia in people with Parkinson’s could help people live longer,” said Forsaa at Stavanger University Hospital in Stavanger, Norway.

Dr. David Charles, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and chief medical officer at Vanderbilt Neuroscience Isntitute, said the finding that anti-psychotic medications did not affect mortality in Parkinson’s patients would mean doctors would be less hesitant to prescribe them. Anti-psychotic medications have been associated with increased mortality in Alzheimer’s patients.

An estimated 1 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease. Some 50,000 Americans learn they have the disease each year, most over 50 years old.

Neurology is published by the American Academy of Neurology.

soundoff (831 Responses)
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    My friend with Parkinson's and I have made a music video to raise awareness for Parkinson's Disease


    October 4, 2010 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Sunny Guy

    Not all anti-psychotic drugs are recommended. Here is a quote from ...


    >> "A similar drug, olanzapine (Zyprexa), should not be used for patients with PD because it can worsen their psychotic symptoms."

    Actually, my belief is that it can worsen the Parkinsonian symptoms - but either way, I have previously read that Zyprexa is contraindicated for Parkinson's (L-Dopa) hallucinations.

    October 4, 2010 at 20:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. mdyer

    Parkinson's is often confused with familial tremors, which can also be very debilitating but not considered fatal. They don't do much for familial tremors.

    October 4, 2010 at 22:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Thomas Glasgow

    We sadly after all the research money raised know little about this
    disease which seems in the USA to be attacking younger people.
    What is left out of this story as is usual with research is the kind of foods
    these patients eat,the lack of exercise or use of exercise,predisposition exclusive
    of PD to mental disease,the list goes on & on.

    October 5, 2010 at 07:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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    We just lost my Dad to PD this past August. He had been a 35+yr PD patient and was only 68 when he passed. More studies need to happen on patients who contract PD in their 30's as they will be the ones who will suffer the longest.

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