Weight loss in Parkinson’s disease patients increases the risks for dementia and dependency care, and reduces patients’ life expectancy, according to a new study.
These findings suggest that monitoring weight and timely dietary interventions to counteract weight loss may significantly improve the outcome of Parkinson’s disease patients.
The study, “Early weight loss in parkinsonism predicts poor outcomes: Evidence from an incident cohort study,” was published in the journal Neurology.
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland followed 515 participants – 187 with Parkinson’s disease, 88 with the so-called atypical parkinsonism, and 240 controls – for a median of five years. During this period they registered patients’ weight and evaluated how weight variations influenced disease outcomes.
Individuals with atypical parkinsonism are characterized by some of the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease – such as tremor, slowness, and walking problems – without having a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.
“Weight loss is a common problem in Parkinson’s but it wasn’t clear before we did this how common it was, mainly because of biases in previous studies, or what the consequences were of weight loss. Our hypothesis was that people who are losing weight were going to have adverse outcomes,” Dr. Angus Macleod, the study’s lead author, said in a press release.
The results showed that patients with Parkinson’s disease and parkinsonism have, from early on, lower body weights compared to those without the disease, or controls. Further analysis also showed that weight loss occurring within one year of diagnosis was associated with a higher risk of dependency (patients are no longer able to perform daily activities), dementia, and death.
“Our finding that those who lose weight have poorer outcomes is important because reversing weight loss may therefore improve outcomes,” Macleod said. “Therefore, it is vital that further research investigate whether e.g. high calorie diets will improve outcomes in people with Parkinson’s who lose weight.”
“While other studies have demonstrated that weight loss is common in Parkinson’s, this is the first to consider the impact this symptom may have,” said Prof. David Dexter, deputy director of research at Parkinson’s UK, a charity that contributed funding for the research.
“It has yet to be determined whether this quicker progression can be corrected by supplementation with a high calorie diet, however this could be a key potential development,” Dexter added.