Parkinson’s disease is commonly thought of as a movement disorder, but after years of living with the disease, approximately 25 percent of patients also experience deficits in cognition that impair function. A newly developed research tool may help predict a patient’s risk for developing dementia and could enable clinical trials aimed at finding treatments to prevent the cognitive effects of the disease.
The study, published in Lancet Neurology, combined data from 3,200 people with Parkinson’s disease, representing more than 25,000 individual clinical assessments and evaluated seven known clinical and genetic risk factors associated with developing dementia. From this information, they built a computer-based risk calculator that may predict the chance that an individual with Parkinson’s will develop cognitive deficits.
Currently available Parkinson’s medications are only effective in improving motor deficits caused by the disease. However, the loss of cognitive abilities severely affects quality of life and independence. One barrier to developing treatments for the cognitive effects of Parkinson’s disease is the considerable variability among patients. As a result, researchers must enroll several hundred patients when designing clinical trials to test treatments.
According to the researchers, their new tool – which would allow for the selection of only patients at high risk for developing dementia — could lead to the development of more efficient trials.
The researchers also noted that a patient’s education appeared to have a powerful impact on the risk of memory loss. The more years of formal education patients in the study had, the greater was their protection against cognitive decline.
Moving forward, the researchers plan to further improve the cognitive risk score calculator. The team is scanning the genome of patients to hunt for new progression genes. Ultimately, it is their hope that the tool can be used in the clinic in addition to helping with clinical trial design.