Diabetes may be a previously unrecognized risk factor for the progression of parkinsonian-like signs in older persons. Diabetes seems to accelerate the progression of rigidity and walking disturbances in older persons, according to a report in the journal Neurology. In contrast, diabetes does not affect other movement problems, such as slowness and tremor.
Together, these movement problems are referred to as parkinsonian-like signs because people with Parkinson’s disease often have one or more of them. However, these signs are by no means specific to this neurologic disorder — they can be seen in completely healthy adults.
Parkinsonian-like signs are relatively common with old age, but few risk factors for their development have been identified, lead author Dr. Z. Arvanitakis and colleagues, from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, note. Given diabetes’ link with physical and neurologic disability, it is possible that it could also be associated with such signs.
To investigate, the researchers analyzed data from 822 older Catholic clergymen and women who participated in the Religious Orders Study. When the study began, all of the subjects were free from Parkinson’s disease and dementia. The subjects were followed for up to 9 years with annual neurologic examinations.
A total of 128 participants were diagnosed with diabetes, the authors note. During an average follow-up period of 6 years, diabetic subjects were more likely to experience worsening rigidity and walking than those without diabetes. As mentioned, diabetes was not linked to changes in slow movement or tremor.
"Diabetes may be a previously unrecognized risk factor for the progression of parkinsonian-like signs in older persons," the investigators conclude. However, larger studies with longer follow-up are needed to confirm this finding, they add. Neurology, September 28, 2004.
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