The natural history of treated Parkinson’s disease in an incident, community based cohort.


BACKGROUND: Our understanding of the natural history of idiopathic Parkinson's disease (PD) remains limited. In the era of potential disease modifying therapies, there is an urgent need for studies assessing the natural evolution of treated PD from onset so that relevant outcome measures can be identified for clinical trials. No previous studies have charted progression in unselected patients followed from the point of diagnosis. METHODS: A representative cohort of 132 PD patients was followed from diagnosis for up to 7.9 years (mean 5.2 years). Comprehensive clinical and neuropsychological evaluations were performed every 18 months. Disease progression was evaluated using well validated clinical measures (motor progression and development of dyskinesia on the Unified PD Rating Scale and Hoehn-Yahr scale, dementia onset according to DSM-IV criteria). Multi-level linear modelling was used to chart the nature and rate of progression in parkinsonian symptoms and signs over time. The prognostic importance of baseline demogr‘aphic, clinical and genetic variables was evaluated using survival analysis. RESULTS: Axial (gait and postural) symptoms evolve more rapidly than other motor features of PD and appear to be the best index of disease progression. Conversely, conventional outcome measures are relatively insensitive to change over time. Earlier onset of postural instability (Hoehn-Yahr stage 3) is strongly associated with increased age at disease onset and has a significant impact on quality of life. CONCLUSIONS: Dementia risk is associated with increased age, impaired baseline semantic fluency and the MAPT H1/H1 genotype. The efficacy of disease modifying therapies may be more meaningfully assessed in terms of their effects in delaying the major milestones of PD, such as postural instability and dementia, since it is these that have the greatest impact on patients.