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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Florida Researchers Find Memory Problems in Some People with Parkinson’s Disease

Using a combination of neuropsychological testing and brain imaging, University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions researchers have discovered that in a group of recently-diagnosed patients with Parkinson’s disease, about one quarter have significant memory problems.

Parkinson's brain
[Photo: This brain image of a person with Parkinson’s disease shows white matter connections (highlighted in green, blue and red) between two regions of the brain important for memory (highlighted in orange). Illustration by Jared Tanner]

Parkinson’s disease is commonly known as a movement disorder that leads to tremors and muscle rigidity, but there is growing recognition of cognitive problems associated with the disease. One of the most common is slower thinking speed that causes patients to have trouble quickly retrieving information. The UF study identifies a subset of patients who have a different kind of cognitive issue — memory problems, or difficulty learning and retaining new information. The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“While a large proportion of people with Parkinson’s will experience slower thinking speed, which may make them less quick to speak or have difficulty doing two things at once, we now know that there are a subset of individuals with Parkinson’s disease who have memory problems,” said Dr. Catherine Price, the study’s senior author and an associate professor in the department of clinical and health psychology, part of UF Health. “It is important to recognize which people have issues with learning and memory so we can improve diagnostic accuracy and determine if they would benefit from certain pharmaceutical or behavioral interventions.”

For the UF study, 40 people in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and 40 healthy older adults completed neuropsychological assessments and verbal memory tests.

About half the participants with Parkinson’s disease struggled with an aspect of memory, such as learning and retaining information, or recalling verbal information, said lead author Dr. Jared Tanner, an assistant research professor in the UF department of clinical and health psychology who conducted the study as part of his dissertation research for a UF doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

“And then half of those participants, or nearly one quarter of all participants with Parkinson’s, were really having a difficult time consistently with their memory, enough that it would be noticeable to other people,” said Dr. Tanner, adding that researchers were encouraged by the fact that most participants in the initial stages of Parkinson’s were not having significant memory problems.