Childhood Trauma Tied to Increased Parkinson’s Disease Severity

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with increased motor and nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and reduced quality of life (QOL), new research shows.

Results of the first study to evaluate the relationship between childhood trauma and PD investigators found that the relationship appears to be dose dependent. Patients with PD who reported more than one ACE all experienced a statistically significant decrease in QOL, and for each additional ACE, there was significant worsening of motor symptoms.

This study supports a recent-call to-action paper in JAMA Neurology encouraging adoption of “trauma-informed neurology,” study investigator Indu Subramanian, MD, clinical professor, Department of Neurology, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles, told Medscape Medical News.

“We need to start asking about ACEs in everyone. It should be part of our medical intake,” said Subramanian, who is also the director of the Southwest Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Center, West Los Angeles Veterans Administration.

The study was published online February 20 in Neurology: Clinical Practice .

Hard on the Mind and Body

A robust body of literature has clearly established a connection between ACEs, which include physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction, and negative physical health outcomes across the lifespan. These include stroke, dementia, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, hypertension, and premature death as well as psychosocial health outcomes such as anxiety, depression, substance use, and suicide.

However, until now, the effects of childhood trauma have not been evaluated in a PD population.

As part of the MVP study, 712 adults with PD responded to an online survey asking about childhood trauma.

As anticipated, patients with the least reported childhood trauma reported the highest current QOL and lowest patient-reported motor and nonmotor symptom burden compared with peers with higher reported childhood trauma, the researchers report.

PD symptom burden increased and QOL decreased as the number of ACEs increased.

Patients with ACE scores of 4 or higher reported greater PD symptom severity for 45% of the variables assessed, including apathy, muscle pain, daytime sleepiness, restless leg syndrome, depression, fatigue, comprehension, and anxiety (P < .05), compared with peers with trauma scores of 0.

Limitations of the study included the cross-sectional nature, which prevents making any causal determinations. Also, the ACE questionnaire, because it is self-reported and a retrospective collection of data, introduces the risk for recall bias. In addition, 65% of respondents were women, and racial and ethnic minority groups were not well represented.

Looking ahead, Subramanian and her co-authors believe future research should “attempt to include more diverse populations, attempt improve the response rate of these sensitive questions and, most importantly, determine whether the adverse outcomes associated with childhood trauma can be mitigated with lifestyle modification, psychosocial support, and intervention in adulthood.”

“As a trauma-informed approach, something sorely lacking yet needed in the field of movement disorders, clinicians can proactively screen for ACEs while being mindful to avoid retraumatization,” they suggest. “They can begin to identify how ACEs may physiologically contribute to PD symptom and focus on targeting appropriate interventions that may improve outcomes.”

Life Experiences Matter

Reached for comment, Michael S. Okun, MD, medical advisor, Parkinson’s Foundation, and director of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, University of Florida Health, Gainesville, said that “the idea that childhood trauma could be associated with a mild increase in severity of Parkinson’s symptoms such as apathy, pain, sleepiness and depression is fascinating.”

“We should however temper our enthusiasm for the results of this study because they were obtained through a direct patient survey, and not collected from large well characterized medical database,” Okun told Medscape Medical News.

He added, “If the data on childhood trauma and Parkinson’s can be replicated, we must ask why this could be?”

“For Parkinson clinicians this as a reminder of how important obtaining a complete life history can be when strategizing on a plan to reduce motor and non-motor Parkinson symptoms. Life experiences matter and can impact symptoms,” Okun said.

The MVP study was initiated with support of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The ongoing data collection has been supported by a donation from Sondra and Bill Fondren. Subramanian and Okun have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest.

Neurol Clin Pract. Published online February 20, 2023. Source

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