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Researchers look to stop memory loss in Parkinson's patients

Monday - 1/23/2012, 6:08am  ET

Kathy Stewart, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Actor Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali have become the faces of Parkinson's disease, but local researchers are looking to see whether exercise and memory training can help with the disease's debilitating symptom of memory loss.

Tremors are often associated with Parkinson's disease, "but a fair number of people with Parkinson's develop memory impairment," says Karen Anderson, a neuro-psychiatrist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

She says memory problems are seen very early in the disease, and they can prevent patients from carrying out daily activities like working.

Anderson is the lead investigator for a study already underway that will show whether exercise and computer memory training can slow, or even reverse, some of the memory changes in Parkinson's patients.

"My study looks at the memory part of Parkinson's to see if it is helpful for this," she says.

Anderson says memory impairment in Parkinson's patients can be a bigger issue than the tremors.

"There are not a lot of good treatments for this," she says.

The study has three groups. One gets aerobic exercise. Another gets computer memory training, and the third gets a combination of the two. The hope is to see which activities may prevent memory changes in people with Parkinson's.

The doctor says a lot of work based on normal aging shows that even moderate exercise can affect the brain's ability to function in a positive way. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson's.

Anderson says this disease is more prevalent than often thought, and will become even more prevalent as the population ages.

Patients who are interested in enrolling in the study can call 443-827-0677.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)