Parkinson’s sufferers may become gamblers

Slowness of movement, clumsiness and shaking are all symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's sufferers may also experience symptoms that are not movement-related, however, such as depression, dementia and aches and pains. Then there are so-called 'impulse control disorders', including hypersexuality, the excessive use of medication, repetitive, stereotypic movements, and compulsive gambling.

“It was first talked of about ten years ago," says neurologist Martin Bareš. “But it remains the case that neither Parkinson's sufferers and their families nor doctors associate these problems with the disease." Within the framework of a behavioural and social neuroscience research group at CEITEC MU, Bareš is monitoring symptoms of compulsive gambling in Parkinson's sufferers.

Fortunately such problems occur only in a small percentage of patients. “Our research is starting to show that younger men have a greater tendency to behave like this," Bareš continues. “It may be that this tendency is influenced by the medication a patient uses."

Parkinson's sufferers lack a substance called dopamine, which allows the transmission of impulses between neurons in the brain. A lack of dopamine means an inability to control one's movements. Dopamine is most plentiful in the region of the brain known as the basal ganglia.

Scientists' verification of a connection between Parkinson's disease and gambling has been a gradual process. First, a group of patients with no tendency to gamble was tested using a task that simulated a certain type of decision-making and also using magnetic resonance imaging of the brain.

“It was shown that these people had a decision-making disorder that manifested itself in the area of the brain known as the basal ganglia, which is responsible for Parkinson's disease," says Bareš.

Specialists have also determined that Parkinson's sufferers react differently when they lose. “They do not see it as defeat," says Bareš.

Bareš is continuing with his research of this phenomenon. “It is important to give patients and their families better information on possible risks which may endanger their economic circumstances," he adds.

The findings may be used, too, to establish whether the psychological phenomenon of gambling in people who are not Parkinson's sufferers is associated with the same areas of the brain as is the case in Parkinson's sufferers.

Masaryk university