One Early Signal That Parkinson's Progression Could Be Swift

MONDAY, July 3, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Patients recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease who have early hallucinations are at greater risk of faster mental decline, according to new research on the disease.

These so-called "presence hallucinations," such as the strong sense that someone is behind you, watching you, but no one is there, are a frequent but brushed off and underreported symptoms in Parkinson's patients.

“We now know that early hallucinations are to be taken seriously in Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Olaf Blanke, head of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

Lead author Fosco Bernasconi of the same lab agreed.

“If you have Parkinson’s disease and experience hallucinations, even minor ones, then you should share this information with your doctor as soon as possible,” he said in an institute news release. “So far, we only have evidence linking cognitive decline and early hallucinations for Parkinson’s disease, but it could also be valid for other neurodegenerative diseases.”

For the study, the researchers collected data on 75 patients between the 60 and 70 years of age. Each had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and underwent a series of interviews to assess their cognitive status and whether or not they were experiencing hallucinations. They also underwent electroencephalography (EEG) measurements of the brain’s activity at rest.

Researchers found that cognitive decline was more rapid in the following five years among Parkinson's patients with early hallucinations.

Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases are often detected after illness is advanced, limiting the impact of preventative measures and disease-modifying therapies.

These researchers would like to change that, looking for tell-tale signs and ways to promote early intervention for slowing progression of patients’ cognitive and psychiatric symptoms.

About half of patients with Parkinson’s experience hallucinations regularly. In about a third of patients, early hallucinations appear before the onset of motor symptoms like trembling. While Parkinson’s is typically seen as having motor symptoms, a variety of non-motor symptoms can appear early on, according to the study.

“Detecting the earliest signs of dementia means early management of the disease, allowing us to develop improved and personalized therapies that try to modify the course of the disease and improve cognitive function,” Blanke said.

Study results were published June 29 in Nature Mental Health.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on Parkinson’s disease.

SOURCE: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, news release, June 29, 2023

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