APR 11, 2016 4:06 AM PDT

A Drug for Dementia Could Help Parkinson's Patients

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease that can devastate the muscles in the body. It’s progressive, so early symptoms often go unreported by many patients as they don’t see them as significant. Hand tremors, tics or changes in facial movement and stiffness are all early signs that are often not noticed or attributed to aging or being out of shape. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation estimates that one million Americans live with PD, which is more than ALS, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis combined. Men are more than 1.5 times more likely to get PD and while it progresses faster in older patients, 4% of patients are diagnosed with the disease before they turn fifty years old.  While there are some treatments that can ease symptoms, the cause is unknown and there is no cure. 
 
Keeping Parkinson's patients on their feet is crucial

One of the risks patients with PD experience is fall risk. In the UK, it’s estimated that 70% of  PD sufferers will fall at least once a year and one third of those will fall repeatedly, resulting in hospital stays, broken bones and head injuries. New research from scientists in England, funded by the group Parkinson’s UK has shown that a drug normally prescribed to dementia patients could be helpful in preventing falls in some people with PD.
 
The journal The Lancet Neurology published research on the drug rivastigmine which showed that patients who had PD and took the oral medication were 45% less likely to fall than those who did not. 
 
The study was based out of the University of Bristol in England. Dr. Emily Henderson, was the principal researcher on the study and said in a press release, "With the degeneration of dopamine producing nerve cells, people with Parkinson's often have issues with unsteadiness when walking. As part of the condition, they also have lower levels of acetylcholine, a chemical which helps us to concentrate - making it extremely difficult to pay attention to walking. We already know that rivastigmine works to treat dementia by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, however our study shows for the first time that it can also improve regularity of walking, speed, and balance. This is a real breakthrough in reducing the risk of falls for people with Parkinson's."
 
The study involved 130 participants who had PD and had suffered a fall in the previous year. Half were given the dementia drug rivastigmine and the other half were given a placebo. The researchers then followed the group for eight months to assess any impact. 
 
The Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK praised the work as significant in helping those who live with the disease saying, “People affected by Parkinson's, their carers, and health and social care professionals have said that preventing falls and improving balance is the biggest unmet need for people living with the condition, other than finding a cure.”
 
Dr. Henderson explains the research in the video below and talks about how the drug could be life-changing for some patients. The team hopes that further research can be done so that more patients might benefit.
 
 

Sources: CDCParkinson's UK, The Lancet News reports
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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