Cautious? Beware you can develop Parkinson`s!

Washington: Being cautious may help you avert dangers, but it may not be always good for your health, as a new study claims to have found a link between risk-avoiding personality and Parkinson`s disease.

Researchers from the University of South Florida found that patients with Parkinson`s disease are more likely to be cautious and avoid taking risks compared with people who don`t have Parkinson`s.

Moreover, the tendency to avoid taking risks appears to be a stable personality trait across a patient`s lifetime -- as far back as 30 years before symptoms began, those with Parkinson`s disease said they did not often engage in risky or exhilarating activities, such as riding roller coasters or speeding, the study found.

The findings add to a growing body of research suggesting Parkinson`s is more likely to afflict people with rigid, cautious personalities, LiveScience reported.

It`s possible that what we consider to be aspects of someone`s personality may in fact be very early manifestations of Parkinson`s, study researcher Kelly Sullivan said.

But, it`s too soon to say that having a "look before you leap" personality puts you at risk for Parkinson`s, Sullivan said, adding that much more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

In the study, which was presented at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in New Orleans recently, Sullivan and colleagues asked 89 patients with Parkinson`s and 99 healthy people whether they engaged in specific activities like riding roller coasters, speeding and wearing a seatbelt, before the age of 35.

They also asked questions to gauge participants` current personalities. It was found that participants with Parkinson`s had higher levels of neuroticism -- a personality trait linked to experiencing more negative emotions such as anxiety -- and higher levels of harm-avoidance than the healthy participants.

In general, the participants` willingness to take risks tended to be stable over time, and Parkinson`s patients tended to report they took fewer risks.

Another study by Sullivan and colleagues found women with Parkinson`s disease were 60 percent more likely to say they had a routine lifestyle as a young adult compared with people without Parkinson`s.

According to the researchers, a brain chemical called dopamine is needed to control muscle movement and in people with Parkinson`s, the brain cells that produce dopamine start to die. This leads to the tremors and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination, which are hallmarks of Parkinson`s.
Levels of dopamine may also affect personality. Dopamine is responsible for signalling feelings of reward and pleasure.

"If you have lower levels of dopamine, it`s less likely that you would really get that neurochemical reward and say `That was awesome! Let`s keep doing that,`" Sullivan said.

While the symptoms of Parkinson`s don`t show up until about 70 per cent of such cells are dead, it`s possible the loss of dopamine-producing cells goes on for a long period before someone is diagnosed, Sullivan said.

More research is needed to know exactly how long this process of brain cell loss goes on and whether the the behaviours exhibited early in life by Parkinson`s patients are actually manifestations of the disease, Sullivan added.