First steps of Parkinson's disease

31 May 2011

Dr Simon Lewis (right).
Dr Simon Lewis (right).

Neurologists at the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Research Institute warn 'those things that go bump or kick in the night' may be signalling early onset of Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease (PD) affects 80,000 Australians and while the causes of the condition remain largely unknown, Dr Simon Lewis, neurologist and senior lecturer in cognitive neuroscience says people don't realise that the disease can have many different early manifestations.

"Interestingly, although best known for its physical symptoms like slowness and tremor, Parkinson's disease is often preceded by a host of seemingly unrelated symptoms like mood change, loss of smell, constipation and sleep disorders.

"Possibly the most dramatic of its symptoms, however is known as Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behaviour Disorder. Parkinson patients have been known to start acting out in their dreams, often punching or kicking the person sharing their bed.

"For some Parkinson patients it comes as a revelation and relief, not to mention their spouses, that the condition may be responsible for things that go 'bump' or'kick' in the night," says Dr Lewis.

Problems with thinking and memory are also common in Parkinson's diseases with patients being six times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

While researchers continue to investigate causes of the disease the Brain and Mind Research Institute is trialling memory training.

"We believe the disease spreads slowly through the brain and these non-physical symptoms can often predate the disease by many years, potentially offering an early way of recognising the condition," says Dr Lewis.

In conjunction with Parkinson's NSW, the Brain and Mind Research Institute have launched the First Steps program. This program is intended to deliver information to people who have recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

"As part of our efforts to find early detection and better prevent strategies for the disorder we are offering memory training to patients with Parkinson's through our research program at the Brain and Mind Research Institute. At the time of diagnosis over 50 percent of patients have some cognitive impairment and therefore early intervention must be a priority," says Dr Lewis.

A special seminar on Parkinsons disease is being held for recently or newly diagnosed patients and their families at 1.30pm on Monday 20 June at the Brain and Mind Research Institute. For more information on the First Steps program contact Parkinson's NSW InfoLine staff on 1800 644 189.

Interview contacts: Dr Simon Lewis, 9515 7565, 0420 754 663,

Media enquiries: Victoria Hollick, 0401 711 361, 9351 2579,

Kath Kenny, 0478 303 173, 9351 1584,