Diabetes in older individuals appeared to speed up the progression of rigidity and walking disturbances. On the other hand, diabetes did not affect other movement, including slowness and tremor, according to the results of a study reported in Neurology (September 28, 2004). Together, these movement problems are referred to as parkinsonian-like signs because individuals with Parkinson's disease often have one or more of them.
Although parkinsonian-like signs are common with old age, few risk factors for their development have been identified. The current study examined the possible link between diabetes and physical and neurologic disability. The researchers evaluated data from 822 older Catholic clergymen and clergywomen who participated in the Religious Orders Study. At the onset of the study, all of the participants did not have Parkinson's disease or a dementia diagnosis. The participants were followed for up to 9 years with annual neurologic examinations.
The researchers pointed out that 128 participants were diagnosed with diabetes. In 6 years of follow-up, participants with diabetes experienced increasing rigidity and walking, compared with diabetes-free participants. The researchers concluded, "Diabetes may be a previously unrecognized risk factor for the progression of parkinsonian-like signs in older persons."