A new study finds that, overall, lifespan for those living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) is nearly identical to those in the general population. The study looked at a group of diseases called synucleinopathies, including Parkinson’s. The results appear in the May 15 online edition of JAMA Neurology.
Lewy bodies – clumps of alpha-synuclein protein that accumulate in certain brain cells – are the hallmark of PD. The clumps also occur in less common diseases – such as multiple system atrophy (MSA), dementia with Lewy bodies, and PD dementia – in which symptoms can be similar to those of typical Parkinson’s.
Researchers led by Rodolfo Savica, M.D., Ph.D., at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, compared lifespan and cause of death among people with synucleinopathies compared to the general population. They examined the medical records of all 461 people diagnosed with synucleinopathies in Olmsted County, MN, between 1991 and 2010. The scientists also analyzed records from individuals closely matched for age and sex who did not have these diagnoses.
- Among the 461 study participants, 307 had been diagnosed with typical Parkinson’s, 81 with Lewy body dementia, 55 with PD dementia and 16 with MSA. As a combined group, people living with synucleinopathies died two years earlier than people in the general population.
- On average, when compared to the general population, people with typical Parkinson’s had a very similar lifespan, dying about a year earlier.
- On average, compared to the general population, people with MSA died six years earlier, those with dementia with Lewy bodies died six years earlier and those with PD dementia died three and a half years earlier.
- Among study participants with synucleinopathies, neurodegenerative disease was most commonly reported as the cause of death followed by cardiovascular disease. In the general population, it was cardiovascular disease followed by cancers.
What Does It Mean?
People with Parkinson’s and related diseases often have questions about how a diagnosis will impact their lifespan.
So far, studies of life expectancy in PD have been sparse, and the findings have been inconsistent. The findings from this study confirm that people with Parkinson’s can expect a similar lifespan as the general population. However, if dementia develops – either in the case of dementia with Lewy bodies or PD dementia – lifespan is shortened. This illustrates the importance of identifying ways to prevent or slow cognitive changes in PD.
Overall, the study reminds us that people with Parkinson’s can live many years with the disease. With that in mind, people living with these diseases, their care partners and their families can take steps to plan for their health care and make important financial decisions.
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Reference: Savica R, Grossardt BR, Bower JH, et al. (2017.) Survival and Causes of Death Among People With Clinically Diagnosed Synucleinopathies With Parkinsonism: A Population-Based Study. JAMA Neurology doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.0603
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