Most people think of Parkinson’s disease (PD) as a condition of aging, and most of the time they’re right. Looking at the population as a whole, about 1-2% of people over the age of 65 have PD, and it’s usually a condition that is most severe in patients in their 70’s and 80’s. However, about 10% of patients buck this trend and experience their first symptoms before the age of 40; these patients are known as Young-Onset PD or YOPD for short. The R&D team here at PatientsLikeMe recently carried out a research study examining an aspect of PD that has only recently gained much attention, “non-motor symptoms.” When a clinician diagnoses PD, they are usually looking for a triad of cardinal features, specifically tremor, slowness, and stiffness. However, in the past 5-10 years it has been increasingly clear that patients with PD also experience a number of non-motor symptoms, ranging from dizziness to constipation, from a loss of sense of smell to hallucinations, and from apathy to urinary problems.
Several of our members had mentioned in forum postings that they were finding non-motor symptoms, such as cognitive confusion and fatigue, to be a particular burden, so we decided to carry out a research study using the well-validated Non-Motor Symptoms Questionnaire (NMS-Quest) developed by Professor Ray Chaudhuri and colleagues. We sent the survey out to all of our PD patients earlier this year. In total, we got responses from 307 patients, including 260 “classic” PD patients and 46 with YOPD. The results show a higher number of non motor symptoms among YOPD patients (14/30) than PD patients (11/30). That’s an average of three more non-motor symptoms for YOPD patients than their older counterparts. More specifically, YOPD patients (at the individual level) report apathy, concentration problems, falls, pains, and sadness more often than older onset PD patients.
- It’s unusual enough to have YOPD, which can be an isolating and confusing experience. For YOPD patients to experience even more non-motor symptoms than patients with more typical PD seems alarming, and requires urgent attention from clinicians, researchers, and patient advocacy groups to ensure their needs are being met.
- This sentiment is echoed in some of the patient interviews we conducted with members earlier this year. Click here to view the first in a series of interviews to be posted on our YouTube page, and hear for yourself what YOPD patients had to say when we asked what people should know about PD. (More videos to come on our YouTube and Facebook pages, so stay tuned!)
- YOPD patients are more likely to still be working, to be supporting families, and to be looking after young children or parents. Therefore, even minor changes in cognitive function or mood could have a substantial impact on their ability to function.
- Because YOPD patients are relatively rare and spread out, researchers aren’t often able to gather sufficiently large samples to study them in detail. A research platform like PatientsLikeMe provides an ideal opportunity to collect high quality data in an efficient way.