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Early warning signs of Parkinson's

Thursday September 24, 2009

Jocelyn Maminta

wtnh.com - Researchers in New Haven are trying to determine the early warning signs of Parkinson's disease, a chronic movement disorder. Preliminary results indicate that your sense of smell could determine your risk.

Sister Ann O'Neill is among the 200 participants in the Parkinson Associate Risk Study (PARS) who are being monitored closely at The Institute for Neurodegenerative Disorders in New Haven.

The study begins with a scratch-and-sniff test done at home.

"When I first took the smell test I said, either I did very well or I did very poorly and that's why they chose me," said Sister Ann.

Dr. Danna Jennings is one of four primary PARS investigators.

"We actually believe that a decrease in the sense of smell maybe an early sign of Parkinson's disease or other neurological conditions," Dr. Jennings said.

As reported in the October issue of Women's Day magazine, the preliminary results are promising.

"We are beginning to see very subtle indicators that we think maybe predictors for Parkinson's disease, specifically smell itself, maybe some early changes in the motor exam and even in the imaging," explained Dr. Jennings.

The study is a combination of tests which will allow researchers to identify Parkinson predictors. That's why they are also taking images of dopamine transporter cells in a participant's brain.

To get conclusive results, more people like Sister Ann are needed to sign up for PARS. The study could take up to seven years to complete.

For Sister Ann, who has no family history of Parkinson's, a chance meeting at the elevator with a woman underscored what taking part is all about.

"She told me she had Parkinson's but as we were getting off the elevator, she said thank you for helping us and I thought, I didn't even know her name but to be able to help someone like that, meant a lot," she said.

Researchers are looking for participants over 60-years of age who are free of neurological disorders.

For more information, please visit www.PARSinfosource.org .