Kinematic analysis of dopaminergic effects on skilled handwriting movements in Parkinson's disease

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Patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) exhibit impairments in the execution of highly practiced and skilled motor actions such as handwriting. The analysis of kinematic aspects of handwriting movements has demonstrated that size, speed, acceleration and stroke duration are affected in PD. Although beneficial effects of dopaminergic therapy in regard to execution of movements have been reported, the effects of pharmacological therapy on these measures have not been examined in detail. The present study has compared kinematic aspects of handwriting movements of 27 healthy subjects and 27 patients with PD both on their usual dopaminergic treatment and following withdrawal of dopaminergic medication. Healthy subjects were matched with PD patients according to age, sex, handedness and education level. A digitising tablet was used for the assessment of handwriting movements. Subjects were asked to perform a simple writing task. Movement time, distance, velocity, acceleration and measures of fluency of handwriting movements were measured. Compared with healthy subjects, the kinematics of handwriting movements in PD patients were markedly disturbed following withdrawal of dopaminergic medication. Although dopaminergic treatment in PD patients resulted in marked improvements in the kinematics of handwriting movements, PD patients did not reach an undisturbed level of performance. The results suggest that dopamine medication results in partial restoration of automatic movement execution.

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