gain five and 15 years later with electrophysiological testing, strength testing and timed tests of performing basic functions. They found modest declines. Each patient also completed questionnaires about symptoms of progressive weakness at the beginning and end of the study period.
Though the majority complained of progressive weakness during the time they were studied, these symptoms did not correspond with their actual magnitudes of decline over time. Rather, the researchers found patients’ symptoms experienced were associated with the degree of residual weakness immediately following their polio infections.
“Overall, we found that strength changed very little in these polio survivors as they grew older, and we discovered the neurons dropped off at a rate comparable to other non-polio survivors as they aged,” says Dr. Sorenson. “We concluded this was normal aging on top of their old deficits. Very few had to change their homes or add adaptive equipment. Those who had weakness problems during our study had a larger deficit at the end of their childhood disease, making them more likely to develop symptoms. So, as deficits at the end of the disease increase, the probability of experiencing post-polio symptoms increases.”
The discrepancy between what some of the patients experienced with growing weakness and their actual measurements of strength and neuronal loss likely is due to increased sensitivity due to their disease experiences, according to Dr. Sorenson.
“Patients feel their weakness progressing, but when you measure it, it’s very modest,” he says. “Likely, they lost so much strength at the time of their illness that any change is very noticeable to them. Though the likelihood is high that patients who have had childhood polio will complain of weakness later in life, they can expect years of stability without the need for major lifestyle modifications.”
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