Studies of saccades in Parkinson's disease (PD) have seldom examined the influence of cognitive status, ranging from normal cognition, through mild cognitive impairment, to dementia. In a large and heterogeneous sample, we examined how motor and cognitive impairment was reflected in the performance of reflexive, visually-guided saccades. We examined 163 people with PD and 47 similar-aged controls. Ninety three of the PD group had normal cognition (PDN), 48 had mild cognitive impairment (PD-MCI), and 22 had dementia (PDD). Pseudo-random targets (amplitudes of 5, 10, 15 and 20 deg and inter-stimulus-intervals ranging from 550 to 1800 ms) were shown in 108 mixed randomised trials, incorporating gap, step, and overlap onset conditions. Analyses were conducted using multi-level regression modeling. Participants were first assessed by continuous measures (Unified PD Rating Scale motor score and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment). Prolonged latency was significantly related to both motor and cognitive impairment, with the cognitive effect being compounded by increasing age. Decreased saccade amplitude, meanwhile, was primarily related to motor impairment. When assessed by discrete cognitive categories, all of the PD groups showed reduced saccadic amplitude relative to controls. Saccadic latencies, meanwhile, were abnormally prolonged only in the PD-MCI and PDD groups (the control and PDN groups were similar to each other). Latency in the overlap task was particularly sensitive to increasing motor and cognitive impairment. We conclude that reflexive saccades in PD are subtly decreased in amplitude even early in the disease process. Prolonged saccade latency, meanwhile, tends to occur later in the disease process, in the presence of more substantial motor and cognitive impairment, and greater age. The progressive impairment of reflexive saccades, and the differential onset of amplitude and latency impairments, may make them a useful objective tool for assessing disease status.
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