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Improving our understanding of Parkinson's disease

By: Louise Durack
24 January, 2013

Raising Australian awareness of Parkinson’s Disease is the aim of Griffith physician Dr Tien K. Khoo, following new research showing that the early onset of symptoms can lead to earlier diagnosis and better care of the condition.

Completed while working at Newcastle University in the UK, Dr Khoo’s study shows that while movement problems are the main symptom of Parkinson’s Disease, even early in its course, people frequently experience many non-motor symptoms such as drooling, anxiety and constipation.

"These problems affect a large number of patients and begin sooner than previously thought," study author Dr Khoo said.

"Earlier diagnosis could lead to earlier treatment and therefore allow patients to have a better quality of life."

In the study, published this week in the journal Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers compared 159 people with newly diagnosed Parkinson’s disease to 99 people of similar ages who did not have the disease.

Participants were asked whether they experienced any of the 30 non-motor symptoms screened for, including sexual problems, sleep problems and gastrointestinal problems.

"Often people don’t even mention these symptoms to their doctors, and doctors don’t ask about them, yet many times they can be treated effectively," Dr Khoo said.

The people with Parkinson’s disease had an average of eight of the non-motor problems, compared to three non-motor symptoms for the people who did not have the disease.

The most common symptoms

Among the most common symptoms for those with Parkinson’s disease included drooling, urinary urgency, constipation, anxiety and a reduced sense of smell. These were all significantly more common in people with Parkinson’s disease than in those without the disease.

Now working for Griffith University’s School of Medicine, Dr Khoo said he is aiming to raise awareness of Parkinson’s Disease in Australia by developing local research to raise understanding of the disease’s mechanisms and improve its current therapies.

"There is still much work to be done in understanding the disease’s presentation in patients and its various clinical manifestations, as well as how it impacts on quality of life and functional wellbeing," Dr Khoo said.

"Parkinson’s disease is a common condition that has a predilection to the elderly. It is imperative we improve our understanding and treatment of this chronic disease, especially in Australia where the ageing population continues to grow. The latter will require a collaborative effort from patients, carers, doctors, academics and the relevant organisations."

Dr Khoo said he is engaging with local Parkinson’s charities in a bid to further his work. Judy Ashford OAM, president of the Parkinson’s Society of the Gold Coast welcomed the publication of the study.

"The more we learn about the symptoms, the better we can support people living with Parkinson’s," she said.

"Improving quality of life is the aim of Parkinson’s associations and Dr Khoo’s findings will assist our work greatly."

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