Above: QUT PhD researcher, Jamie Sheard

A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) PhD student is seeking Brisbane based volunteers who have Parkinson’s disease for a study looking at the relationship between the disease and malnutrition.

The PhD student, Jamie Sheard, says people with Parkinson’s disease are pre-disposed to malnutrition, yet very little is known about the prevalence of this problem or the best way to overcome it, and she hopes to shed some light on the issue.

“Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder. The characteristic symptoms most people know of are motor symptoms, including tremor,” said Ms Sheard, who is undertaking her PhD research at QUT’s Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI).

“However Parkinson’s disease affects a lot of non-motor symptoms as well. People may have difficulty swallowing, lack senses of smell and taste, lack appetite and a condition whereby they feel full fairly quickly. In addition, depression and anxiety are quite common. 

“It’s been reported that there is a higher risk of malnutrition for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease than for the rest of the community. However, no one is entirely sure what leads to this occurring – whether it is caused by the motor symptoms or other symptoms.”

Ms Sheard said that it was important to get to the bottom of this issue, as malnutrition could greatly decrease a person’s functional ability, immunity and quality of life. Yet despite there being an estimated 55,000 people with the disease in Australia, she said to date there were no dietetic guidelines available for practitioners treating Parkinson’s patients.

“In my research I hope to talk to 150 people over the age of 18 with Parkinson’s disease. Based on my findings, I will be able to form an estimate of the rate of nutritional problems among those who have this condition,” she said.

“I also want to identify the factors which put someone at a higher risk of getting malnourished if they have Parkinson’s disease. The research will help in the formation of dietetic guidelines which hopefully will reduce the number of people with Parkinson’s who suffer from nutritional deficiencies.”

Ms Sheard would like to hear from people with good nutritional status as well as those with a poorer nutritional status. She said it was integral to her study to compare these two groups and identify the differences between them. 

How it works

“For study participants, we will have a two-hour consultation either in the person’s home or at QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus. It involves a nutritional assessment, cognitive assessment, and some non-motor assessments looking at issues such as appetite and sense of taste,” she said.

“For those in the study who are identified as being potentially at risk of malnutrition, there is the option to take part in a 12-week intervention which would seek to improve their nutritional status.” 

If you are are located in the Brisbane area and are interested in taking part in Ms Sheard’s research,  she can be contacted on (07) 3138 6183 or jamie.sheard@qut.edu.au

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  1. This sounds like amazing research that will make a real difference to people’s lives. Good on you Jamie!

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