Michael J Fox gives killer Glastonbury performance: Anxiety in later life may be twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease

Tran Hanh-
July 01, 2024

Those who are diagnosed with anxiety in later life may be twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, compared to over 50s without the condition, a study suggests.

The condition has been thrust back into the spotlight over the weekend amid the electrifying performance of Hollywood legend Michael J Fox, who suffers from the disease, while on stage at the UK’s Glastonbury festival. 

The Back to The Future star, 63, joined Coldplay in an eye-watering rendition of their famous track, Fix You, showing that his condition has not stopped him performing gut-busting guitar riffs.  

Now, an analysis of 100,000 UK adults aged over 50 has revealed one surprising risk factor for developing the disease — which affects around a million Americans. 

Michael J Fox, who has Parkinson's Disease, pictured above on stage with Coldplay at Glastonbury, UK, this weekend

Michael J Fox, who has Parkinson’s Disease, pictured above on stage with Coldplay at Glastonbury, UK, this weekend

The team tracked diagnoses of Parkinson’s, which causes debilitating temors, amoung other symptoms, in people diagnosed with an anxiety episode in the course of the 10-year study.

They compared the rate of diagnoses to a group of Parkinson’s patients who’d never been diagnosed with the mental health condition.  

The team found that the risk of developing the condition within 10-years of an anxiety diagnosis was twice as high for anxious participants. 

Some experts said the results presented a ‘compelling’ case for anxiety over the age of 50 to be considered a possible early warning sign for PD.

However, some scientists say it is difficult to tell whether anxiety pre-exists Parkinson’s, or if it is a symptom of Parkinson’s itself. 

Parkinson's Disease is growing rapidly in the US, with 1.2million people expected to be suffering from the condition in the country by 2030

Parkinson’s Disease is growing rapidly in the US, with 1.2million people expected to be suffering from the condition in the country by 2030

The study authors suggested anxiety could indicate a ‘brain-first’ type of the condition, when signs of the disease can be seen on brain scans before it starts causing obvious symptoms.

Parkinson’s Disease is the world’s fastest growing neurodegenerative disorder, with nearly 90,000 Americans now diagnosed with the disease every year — up 50 percent from the previous estimate of 60,000. 

It is a debilitating condition, which causes nerves in the center of the brain that are linked to movement to die or degenerate.

Sufferers may suffer a slight tremor in one hand or stiffness in part at first. But in later stages of the disease, patients may find it difficult to stand or walk or may suddenly freeze without warning.

There is no cure for the condition, although the advance of its symptoms may be slowed with some medications.

Men are twice as likely as women to be diagnosed with the condition, which tends to strike at the age of 60 years or older. However, it can affect people as young as 20 — Michael J Fox was diagnosed aged 29.

In the study, researchers at University College London (UCL) analyzed data between the years 2008 and 2018.

Patients who had anxiety were mostly female, overweight, did not drink alcohol and were aged between 50 and 54 years old at the start of the study.

Researchers adjusted for factors including age, sex, mental illness and dementia in their comparison, but found those who had anxiety had a two-fold higher risk of the condition.

They were also more likely to suffer from other symptoms such as depression, sleep disturbance, fatigue, high blood pressure and balance problems.

Some experts said the results presented a 'compelling' case for diagnoses of anxiety over the age of 50 years to be considered an early warning sign for PD

Some experts said the results presented a ‘compelling’ case for diagnoses of anxiety over the age of 50 years to be considered an early warning sign for PD

Dr Juan Bazo Avarez, an epidemiologist at UCL who led the study, said: ‘Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide, and it is estimated that it will affect 14.2million people by 2040.

‘Anxiety is known to be a feature of the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, but prior to our study, the prospective risk of Parkinson’s in those over the age of 50 with new-onset anxiety was unknown.’

He added: ‘By understanding that anxiety and the mentioned features are linked to a higher risk of developing the disease over the age of 50, we hope to be able to detect the condition earlier and help patietns get the treatment they need.’

Dr Daniel Truong, a neurologist in California who was not involved with the research, told Medical News Today: ‘The study provides compelling evidence linking anxiety to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in individuals over 50.

‘The findings suggest that [new onset] anxiety may be a prodromal symptom, highlighting the importance of early detection and intervention.’

Dr Clifford Segil, a neurologist also in California, said he would not use anxiety to diagnose patients.

‘Many people worry about how the diagnosis will affect their lives — so it can cause anxiety at times. Many people worry because they think Parkinson’s is a death sentence, but it is not.

‘Anxiety, at times, might be a by-product of the diagnosis but is not a precursor.’

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