About 20% of the population over the age of 65 have signs of parkinsonism, and people with these signs appear to be twice as likely to die as people without the signs, according to a study conducted by physicians from Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center.
Parkinsonism is a collection of motor signs similar to those seen in people with Parkinson's disease. These signs include a shuffling gait and difficulty turning slowed movement in a person's face, arms or legs, rigidity in a person's arms or legs, and tremors of the hand.
"Signs of parkinsonism are very common and appear to predict that an individual is at greater risk of dying," says Dr. David Bennett, a member of the Rush Institute on Aging and lead author of the study. Researchers studied a random selection of 467 residents of East Boston, Massachusetts who were 65 years of age or older when die study began in 1982. They found that signs of parkinsonism were very common, and their prevalence increased with age from 14.9% among those 65-74 years old, to 29.5% among those 75-84 years old, to 52.4% among those over the age of 85. Two hundred seventy of the patients died during the study. Of the 159 persons diagnosed with parkinsonism at the initial evaluation, 124 (78%) died, compared to 146 of 301 (49%) persons without parkinsonism.
The signs most strongly associated with an increased risk of death were those related to difficulty walking. "We do not know whether parkinsonism signs are directly related to death." Bennett says. "We need to learn more about these signs. We need to know what causes them. We need to investigate the extent to which they are associated with disability. Ultimately, we need to prevent the morbidity and mortality associated with them."