Background: The search for disease-modifying treatments for Parkinson's disease advances, however necessary markers for early detection of the disease are still lacking. There is compelling evidence that changes of postural stability occur at very early clinical stages of Parkinson's disease, making it tempting to speculate that changes in sway performance may even occur at a prodromal stage, and may have the potential to serve as a prodromal marker for the disease.
Methodology/principal findings: Balance performance was tested in 20 individuals with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease, 12 Parkinson's disease patients and 14 controls using a cross-sectional approach. All individuals were 50 years or older. Investigated groups were similar with respect to age, gender, and height. An accelerometer at the centre of mass at the lower spine quantified sway during quiet semitandem stance with eyes open and closed, as well as with and without foam. With increasing task difficulty, individuals with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease showed an increased variability of trunk acceleration and a decrease of smoothness of sway, compared to both other groups. These differences reached significance in the most challenging condition, i.e. the eyes closed with foam condition.
Conclusions/significance: Individuals with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease have subtle signs of a balance deficit under most challenging conditions. This preliminary finding should motivate further studies on sway performance in individuals with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease, to evaluate the potential of this symptom to serve as a biological marker for prodromal Parkinson's disease.