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Health & Medicine for Senior Citizens

Swinging One Arm Less Than Other is Early Sign of Parkinson’s Disease

Early detection can allow treatments to slow the disease progression, maybe save lives

Dec. 13, 2011 - People with Parkinson's disease swing their arms asymmetrically - one arm swings less than the other - when walking. This unusual movement is easily detected early when drugs and other interventions may help slow the disease, according to Penn State researchers.

"Scientists have known for some time that people with Parkinson's disease exhibit reduced arm swing during the later stages of the disease, but no one had come up with an easy way to measure this," said Stephen Piazza, associate professor of kinesiology.

"We found that not only do people with the disease exhibit reduced arm swing, but they also exhibit asymmetric arm swing, and this asymmetric arm swing can easily be detected early in the disease's progression."

 

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More archived news reports about Parkinson's disease below news story.


 
 

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No cure for Parkinson's disease exists, but according to Piazza, if taken early, certain drugs can improve some of the disease's symptoms and even reduce the likelihood of death, making early diagnosis important. Some people also believe that changes in nutrition and other lifestyle factors can modify the progression of the disease.

This study used inexpensive accelerometers on the arms of Parkinson's disease patients to measure arm swing. The researchers attached them to the arms of eight Parkinson's disease patients who were in the early stages of the disease - within three years of clinical diagnosis.

They also attached the accelerometers to the arms of eight age- and sex-matched people who did not have the disease. The team asked the subjects to walk continuously for about eight minutes at a comfortable pace. The researchers downloaded the acceleration data and used software they developed - that will be available free to interested doctors - to analyze it. They published their results in the current issue of Gait & Posture.

The scientists found significantly higher acceleration asymmetry, lower cross-correlation between the arms and reduced synchronization of the arms in the early Parkinson's disease patients. According to Joseph Cusumano, professor of engineering science and mechanics, the lower cross-correlation and reduced synchronization suggest that the arm movements are poorly coordinated.

"In other words, if I measure the location of your right arm, it is difficult to use that measurement to predict the location of your left arm," he said. "It is well known that Parkinson's disease has an impact on how people move -- neurologists have been using this fact as the basis for clinical examinations for a very, very long time -- but here we are for the first time precisely quantifying how the disease not only affects the relative amount of limb movements, but also how well coordinated in time these movements are."

To diagnose patients with Parkinson's disease early, some doctors and scientists have proposed the use of a smell test, because people with the disease lose their ability to distinguish odors, according to Xuemei Huang, movement disorders physician, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "But conditions other than Parkinson's disease also can affect a person's ability to smell," she said.

The Penn State team's method of evaluating arm swing can be applied quickly and inexpensively by primary care physicians in their own offices when the smell test is inconclusive and before the application of an expensive brain scan.

"Measuring arm swing asymmetry and coordination with our method may be the cheapest and most effective way to detect Parkinson's disease early in patients' lives when it still is possible to treat the symptoms of the disease and to improve longevity," said Piazza.

The scientists plan to further investigate whether the arm swing evaluation in combination with a smell test can enhance early diagnosis even more. They also plan to further develop their technique so that the accelerometers give immediate readings, which, they said, would save the extra step of downloading the data to a computer and analyzing it, thereby making the arm swing assessments of Parkinson's disease even easier.

Penn State graduate students Joseph Mahoney, Mechelle Lewis and Guangwei Du also worked on this project.


About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson's disease is a disorder that affects nerve cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain that controls muscle movement. In Parkinson's, neurons that make a chemical called dopamine die or do not work properly. Dopamine normally sends signals that help coordinate your movements. No one knows what damages these cells. Symptoms of Parkinson's disease may include

   ● Trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face

   ● Stiffness of the arms, legs and trunk

   ● Slowness of movement

   ● Poor balance and coordination

As symptoms get worse, people with the disease may have trouble walking, talking or doing simple tasks. They may also have problems such as depression, sleep problems or trouble chewing, swallowing or speaking.

Parkinson's usually begins around age 60, but it can start earlier.

It is more common in men than in women. There is no cure for Parkinson's disease. A variety of medicines sometimes help symptoms dramatically.

 >> Parkinson's Disease (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

 >> Parkinson's Disease-Interactive Turotial (Patient Education Institute)

Links to More Archived Reports on Parkinson's Disease

 

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Old Gastrointestinal Drug Slows Aging, May Alleviate Alzheimer’s Disease

Clioquinol can reverse the progression of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases in animal studies

Jan. 7, 2009


Seniors, Other Parkinson Patients Gain from Deep Brain Stimulation but Take Serious Risk

Few previous randomized trials comparing treatments, most excluded senior citizens - watch video - Jan. 7, 2009


Physical Activity Slows the Progress of Parkinson’s in Study

U. of Michigan programs promote strengthening and conditioning of patients

Aug. 11, 2008


Parkinson's Community Steps Out to Find a Cure at the 14th Annual Parkinson's Unity Walk

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April 23, 2008


Parkinson’s Patients Play Nintendo to Test Occupational Therapy

Foul ball and improved walking ability brings a cheer for Ingrid Bell

April 7, 2008


Researchers Claim Omega-3 Fatty Acids Protect Brain from Parkinson's

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Nov. 26, 2007


PET Scans Show Gene Therapy Normalizes Brain Function in Parkinson’s

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Nov. 20, 2007


It's How Amyloid Fiber is Built that May Set Stage for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

Study of bacteria’s role in forming fibers leads to new theory

July 13, 2007


Exelon Patch is First Approved by FDA to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

Patch also approved to treat Parkinson's disease dementia

July 9, 2007


New Treatment in Battle Against Parkinson’s May Come from Discovery

New protein appears to protect and rescue damaged dopamine neurons

July 5, 2007


Parkinson’s Disease Risks Lower with High Levels of Urate in Blood

Large Harvard study finds potent antioxidant works against oxidative stress

June 22, 2007


Parkinson’s Disease Treatment with Gene Therapy Shows Promise

First such clinical trial may lead to effective management of disease that hits mostly senior citizens

June 22, 2007


Engineers Say They Now Know How Brain Pacemakers Help Parkinson’s Patients

Deep brain stimulation erases diseased messages for thousands

May 31, 2007


Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Diabetes, Mad Cow Similar at Molecular Level

Protein analysis may offer new diagnoses and treatment options

April 30, 2007


Parkinson's Treatment Drugs Being Withdrawn, Says FDA

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March 29, 2007


Major Parkinson's Trial Begins Testing Energy Booster's Ability to Slow the Disease

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March 22, 2007


Australians Claim Low-Cost Gene Screening for Parkinson's Disease

Seeks people for gene-sequencing trial, Australia-wide gene-mapping study

Feb. 23, 2007


Parkinson's Linked to Low LDL Cholesterol that is Good for Heart

People with Parkinson's have lower rate of heart attack and stroke

December 20, 2006


Cell Activities that Protect against Alzheimer's Protein Buildup Found

Findings may lead to new therapies for Neurodegenerative Diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

August 11, 2006


Researchers find 'Probable Cause' for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, other Brain Disorders

June 28, 2006

 

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