Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Parkinson's disease patients more risk averse, USF researchers find

Your personality sometimes can offer clues to your physical health. More than 50 years of research have confirmed, in the main, that aggressive, competitive Type A people are more likely to have heart attacks than calmer, more patient, Type B counterparts. • Could there be a Type P?

Kelly Sullivan, a researcher in neuroepidemiology at USF's Morsani College of Medicine, says there is evidence of an intriguing link between personality and Parkinson's disease.

She and a USF team found that patients with the condition are more likely to be cautious and avoid risk taking. "They took fewer activity risks and had a greater preference for routine," said Sullivan, who cautioned that this is a fairly small study that needs to be tested further.

Researchers interviewed 89 people with Parkinson's and 99 who didn't have the disease. They were asked about their personalities in early adulthood and today.

Did they ride roller coasters, motorcycles, wear seat belts, gamble, or like to fly in small airplanes? Did they tend to plan out their days and stick to a schedule, including going to bed and rising at the same time throughout their lives?

"Those with Parkinson's had higher levels of harm avoidance, took fewer risks in their 20s and 30s and remained that way across their lives," said Sullivan, who presented the results last month at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

None of which is to say, however, that you can protect yourself from Parkinson's by doing wild and crazy things. The study found an association; it didn't explain how it happens. But here's the theory:

People with Parkinson's have lower levels of a brain chemical called dopamine which is associated with muscle movement. Lower dopamine levels may also affect personality.

Dopamine gives us that rush of excitement, when driving at high speeds or riding a roller coaster. If you don't get that rush of pleasure, you're less likely to go in for risky activities.

But it isn't until dopamine gets very low, about 70 percent of normal or less, that the physical symptoms of Parkinson's appear, such as tremors, stiff posture, difficulty walking and others.

By the time these hallmarks develop, scientists believe the progressive disease has been under way often for decades.

So the USF research's value could be in aiding earlier detection, and some day, better treatment

"Our findings suggest that early life personality characteristics might be useful in identifying people at higher risk for Parkinson's," said Sullivan. "This study gives us insight into the preclinical characteristics of the disease."

Frank Sparrow, 59, was diagnosed with Parkinson's two years ago. He was in technical sales most of his life. "I was pretty organized, I had to be," said the Lake Alfred man, who since his diagnoses has been working part time in real estate.

"I had large customers, I sold communication services to universities and hospitals. To make a mistake with one of them would be a big deal. I characterize myself as pragmatic and organized," he said.

He's scratching his head over the new report.

"For the life of me I'm trying to figure out how they made that connection," said Sparrow. "I took calculated risks in business and in private life.''

Water-skiing, snow skiing, scuba diving, and zip lining above tree tops are all sports he's enjoyed.

"But jumping out of an airplane, I think is insane," he said.

Risk aversion is not the only personality trait linked with the condition. For instance, a 2010 report found a connection between anxiousness and Parkinson's.

Dr. Dean Sutherland, director of the Southeastern Center for Parkinson's Disease in Sarasota, said a possible connection with risk aversion has been talked about for years.

"But never has there been a study that's been as convincing as this one," he said.

Does Parkinson's cause those personality traits? Or do the personality traits cause something to go wrong biologically that leads to Parkinson's?

"We don't know," said Sullivan, "We need to do more research. Ours was a small sample and it wasn't conclusive."

Still, Sutherland, who treats patients with the condition, is intrigued at the possibilities. Personality tests might reveal the disease early, when it might be easier to stop.

"This kind of research could drive industry to find drugs and treatment that halt or slow the progress of the disease,'' he said. ''We don't have anything that does that right now.''

Personality links to disease

Here are a few of the links scientists have drawn between personality and physical diseases. Remember that these are tendencies, not ironclad rules that describe all cases.

ARE YOU a workaholic who can't relax? Have an explosive temper?

YOU MAY be at risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke

ARE YOU suffering chronic stress and burying it, not managing it?

YOU MAY be at risk for heart disease, infertility, colds and flu, infections that cause stomach ulcers.

ARE YOU feeling hopeless and powerless to improve your lot in life?

YOU MAY be at risk for certain cancers.


Parkinson's disease patients more risk averse, USF researchers find 05/09/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 10:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn proposes $974 million budget for 2018

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn today proposed a $974.2 million budget for next year that would raise the city's property tax rate for the first time since 1989 and use the additional revenue to improve parks, expand fire service and prepare for looming financial challenges in the years ahead.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn presented his proposed $974.2 million budget for 2018 to the City Council on Thursday. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times (2016)
  2. A second chance at life, away from the game he loved

    The Heater

    Dylan Delso, a catcher for the Tampa Bay Rays' Gulf Coast League team, displays his scar at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. On June 25, 2016 Delso fell backward down a flight of stairs, suffering a nearly fatal head injury that put him in a coma for eight days. He's finally back on the baseball field after a miraculous recovery.
  3. Florida house where O.J. Simpson lived listed for $1.3 million


    MIAMI — What happened to the Florida home where O.J. Simpson lived with his children after his acquittal in the death of his ex-wife and her friend?

    O.J. Simpson explains his golf scoring to his daughter, Sydney, as he played golf on Key Biscayne in Miami in 1997. The house south of Miami where Simpson lived with Sydney and his son, Justin, until his 2008 conviction in an armed robbery involving two sports memorabilia dealers in Las Vegas, is on the market. [AP photo]
  4. Behind the lens: To capture an exhilarating moment, it's better to be lucky AND good


    Editor's note: Boyzell Hosey, our Assistant Managing Editor - Photography/Multimedia, shot this image while on a family vacation in Alaska. Below is his description of the shot.

  5. Council candidate James Scott sees a green future for St. Petersburg

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG — James Scott's central tenet is sustainability.

    St. Petersburg City Council District 6 candidate James Scott. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   TIMES]