Predictors of apathy in Parkinson’s disease

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Status: In-progress
Year: 2019
Funded: $96,983
Grant Type: Major Project Grant

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a brain disorder that affects many people in our society. It is now clear that a major determinant of quality of life for people with PD are so-called non-motor problems, which range from mood disturbance to cognitive decline and dementia.

One of the most important of these non-motor problems is apathy – or loss of motivation. Apathy substantially reduces the quality of life of both patients and their families. Although we know it occurs commonly, the relationship between apathy and different stages of PD is poorly understood, as are the changes in normal brain mechanisms that lead to the development of apathy.

In this project, we utilise our existing dataset, in which patients with PD have been followed over many years with  comprehensive assessments of thinking and brain imaging, to investigate how apathy rates change across the time-course of PD, and what factors can predict its development. We hope this research will ultimately translate into successful interventions to treat, or minimise the impact of apathy in PD.

Researcher // Dr Campbell Le Heron – Canterbury District Health Board

Dr Le Heron is a neurologist with a strong interest in cognitive disorders and the normal neural processes that underlie these deficits. He completed my undergraduate medical studies at the University of Otago, and subsequently undertook Neurology advanced training in Melbourne, Australia and a Fellowship in Oxford, UK.


What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”)
neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra. Symptoms generally develop slowly over years. The progression of symptoms is often a bit different from one person to another due to the diversity of the disease. People with PD may experience: Tremor, mainly at rest and described as pill rolling tremor in hands, while other forms of tremor are possible; Bradykinesia; Limb rigidity; Gait and balance problems. The cause remains largely unknown. Although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medications and surgery. While Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, disease complications can be serious, making research into this disease vital.

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Men are 1.5x more likely to have Parkinson’s than women.
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An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease.
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4% of people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed before age 50.
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Approximately 1% of people over the age of 60 have the condition in NZ.

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