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Years before Diagnosis, Quality of Life Declines for Parkinson’s Disease Patients

Research Published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease

July 2, 2012
Growing evidence suggests that Parkinson’s disease (PD) often starts with non-motor symptoms that precede diagnosis by several years. In the first study to examine patterns in the quality of life of Parkinson’ disease patients prior to diagnosis, researchers have documented declines in physical and mental health, pain, and emotional health beginning several years before the onset of the disease and continuing thereafter. Their results are reported in the latest issue of Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.

“We observed a decline in physical function in PD patients relative to their healthy counterparts beginning three years prior to diagnosis in men and seven and a half years prior to diagnosis in women,” says lead investigator Natalia Palacios, PhD, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health. “The decline continues at a rate that is five to seven times faster than the average yearly decline caused by normal aging in individuals without the disease.”

The study included 51,350 male health professionals enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow Up Study (HPFS) and 121,701 female registered nurses enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS). In both ongoing studies, participants fill out biannual questionnaires about a variety of lifestyle characteristics and document the occurrence of major chronic disease. In the NHS study, questionnaires measured health-related quality of life in eight areas: physical functioning, role limitations due to physical problems, role limitations due to emotional problems, vitality, bodily pain, social functioning, mental health, and general health perceptions. In the HPFS, only physical functioning was assessed.

Researchers identified 454 men and 414 women with PD in the two cohorts.  At 7.5 years prior to diagnosis, physical function among PD cases, in both men and women, was comparable to that in the overall cohort. A decline began approximately 3 years prior to diagnosis in men and approximately 7.5 years prior to diagnosis in women. Physical function continued to decline thereafter at a rate of 1.43 and 2.35 points per year in men and women, respectively. In comparison, the average yearly decline in individuals without PD was 0.23 in men and 0.42 in women. Other measures of quality of life, available only in women, declined in a similar pattern.

Dr. Palacios notes that a strength of the study is the availability of prospective data on both PD patients and a healthy comparison group, and the ability to chart the deterioration in functioning and quality of life over the whole study follow-up, which included many years prior to diagnosis. 

“This result provides support to the notion that the pathological process leading to PD may start several years before PD diagnosis,” says Dr. Palacios. “Our hope is that, with future research, biological markers of the disease process may be recognizable in this preclinical phase.”  

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NOTES FOR EDITORS

“Declining Quality of Life in Parkinson Disease Before and After Diagnosis,” by Xiang Gao, Michael Schwarzschild, Alberto Ascherio, Natalia Palacios.  Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, 2(2012) 1-8. DOI: 10.3233/JPD-2012-12083. Published by IOS Press.

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists.  Contact Daphne Watrin, IOS Press, +31 20 688 3355, d.watrin@iospress.nl. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact Natalia Palacios, PhD, at palacios@hsph.harvard.edu and Marge Dwyer, Harvard School of Public Health, Media Office at 617-432-8416 or mhdwer@hsph.harvard.edu.

ABOUT THE JOURNAL OF PARKINSON’S DISEASE (JPD)

Launched in June 2011 the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease is dedicated to providing an open forum for original research in basic science, translational research and clinical medicine that will expedite our fundamental understanding and improve treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The journal is international and multidisciplinary and aims to promote progress in the epidemiology, etiology, genetics, molecular correlates, pathogenesis, pharmacology, psychology, diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. It publishes research reports, reviews, short communications, and letters-to-the-editor and offers very rapid publication and an affordable open access option. www.journalofparkinsonsdisease.com

ABOUT IOS PRESS

Commencing its publishing activities in 1987, IOS Press (www.iospress.nl) serves the information needs of scientific and medical communities worldwide. IOS Press now (co-)publishes over 100 international journals and about 130 book titles each year on subjects ranging from computer sciences and mathematics to medicine and the natural sciences.

IOS Press continues its rapid growth, embracing new technologies for the timely dissemination of information. All journals are available electronically and an e-book platform was launched in 2005.

Headquartered in Amsterdam with satellite offices in the USA, Germany, India and China, IOS Press has established several strategic co-publishing initiatives. Notable acquisitions included Delft University Press in 2005 and Millpress Science Publishers in 2008.

Contact:
Daphne Watrin
IOS Press
Tel: +31 20 688 3355
Fax: +31 20 687 0019
Email: d.watrin@iospress.nl
www.journalofparkinsonsdisease.com