Objective

To examine whether indices of Parkinson disease (PD) pathology and other brain pathologies are associated with the progression of parkinsonism in older adults.

Methods

We used data from decedents who had undergone annual clinical testing prior to death and structured brain autopsy. Parkinsonism was based on assessment with a modified Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale and a clinical diagnosis of PD was based on medical history. We used a series of mixed-effects models controlling for age and sex to investigate the association of PD pathology (nigral neuronal loss and Lewy bodies) and indices of 8 other brain pathologies with the progression of parkinsonism prior to death.

Results

During an average of 8.5 years’ follow-up, more than half (771/1,430, 53.9%) developed parkinsonism proximate to death. On average, parkinsonism was progressive (estimate 0.130, SE 0.005, p < 0.001) in all older adults, but more rapid in adults with a clinical diagnosis of PD (n = 52; 3.6%) (estimate 0.066, SE 0.021, p < 0.001). Progression of parkinsonism was more rapid in adults with PD pathology (estimate 0.087, SE 0.013, p < 0.001). Alzheimer disease and several cerebrovascular pathologies were all independently associated with more rapid progression (all p values <0.05). The association between a higher person-specific weighted pathology score and more rapidly progressive parkinsonism did not differ between individuals with and without a clinical diagnosis of PD (estimate 0.003, SE 0.047, p = 0.957).

Conclusion

The rate of progressive parkinsonism in older adults with and without a clinical diagnosis of PD is related to the burden of mixed brain pathologies.

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