Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Experts in the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease suggest they are on the verge of developing new ways of identifying the condition earlier -- and better managing its debilitating symptoms.
In a presentation Tuesday at the XXIV World Congress of Neurology in Dubai, researchers from the Center for Neurodegenerative Science at Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich. told more than 4,000 neurologists from around the world in attendance that recent studies suggest that other health conditions -- like rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, constipation, depression, hyposmia, anxiety and excessive daytime sleepiness -- may be predictors of the onset of the movement disorder.
The Mayo Clinic describes rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep behavior disorder as a sleep disorder in which you physically act out vivid, often unpleasant dreams with vocal sounds and sudden, often violent arm and leg movements.
This is sometimes called dream-enacting behavior.
"We are beginning to understand Parkinson's disease mechanisms and found that the prodrome period occurs much earlier than we had previously expected -- years, even decades prior to the onset of motor symptoms," said Prof. Patrik Brundin, director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Science at Van Andel Institute, according to a release. "We've never in history known as much about the disease as we do now. It's a quantum leap from 15-20 years ago."
Brundin delivered the annual Fulton Award Lecture in Dubai. His talk, entitled "The Battle to Beat Parkinson's," summarized how these signs and symptoms may one day be used as new biomarkers -- or measurable indicators of the severity or presence of a disease -- to diagnose Parkinson's disease earlier. However, this doesn't mean that everyone with sleep problems or depression will develop the movement disorder -- only that research suggests that those with these conditions may be at increased risk later in life.
According to Brundin, roughly 10 percent of Parkinson's disease cases are familial, meaning they're caused by inherited genetic mutations, while the other 90 percent of cases are "sporadic." In people with this form of the disease, their symptoms may be triggered by a combination of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle.
Perhaps more importantly, he added, insights into how and when the disease originates and progresses are critical in developing new, more effective treatment options. There are a number of new therapies being tested now, including vaccinations, nerve blockers and neurosurgical procedures.
"The primary question when it comes to treatment is if we can restore lost functions in advanced patients where the damage is already done," Brundin said. "Research into transplants of nerve cells derived from stem cells shows promise in this regard, and is beginning to enter the clinical arena."