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Irregular arm swing may point to Parkinson's disease
Date:12/10/2009

Irregular arm swings while walking could be an early sign of Parkinson's disease, according to neurologists who believe early detection may help physicians apply treatments to slow further brain cell damage until strategies to slow disease progression are available.

Parkinson's disease is an age-related disorder involving loss of certain types of brain cells and marked by impaired movement and slow speech.

"The disease is currently diagnosed by tremors at rest and stiffness in the body and limbs," said Xuemei Huang, associate professor of neurology, Penn State Hershey College of Medicine. "But by the time we diagnose the disease, about 50 to 80 percent of the critical cells called dopamine neurons are already dead."

Huang and her colleagues are studying gait, or the manner in which people walk, to understand the physical signs that might be a very early marker for the onset of Parkinson's. They have confirmed Huang's clinical impression that in people with Parkinson's, the arm swing is asymmetrical. In other words, one arm swings much less than the other as a person walks.

"We know that Parkinson's patients lose their arm swing even very early in the disease but nobody had looked using a scientifically measured approach to see if the loss was asymmetrical or when this asymmetry first showed up," said Huang. Her team's findings appear in the current issue of Gait and Posture. "Our hypothesis is that because Parkinson's is an asymmetrical disease, the arm swing on one arm will be lost first compared to the other."

The researchers compared the arm swing of 12 people diagnosed three years earlier with Parkinson's, to eight people in a control group. The Parkinson's patients were asked to stop all medication the night before to avoid influencing the test results.

The team used special equipment to measure movement accurately, including many reflective markers on the study participants and eight digital c
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Contact: Amitabh Avasthi
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert

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