Discovery: Tremor disorder in seniors often misdiagnosed as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's

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Researchers say they have discovered a tremor disorder in adults that is often mistaken for Parkinson's or Alzheimer's and is linked to fragile X syndrome in children, reports a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They have named it Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome, or FXTAS.

"FXTAS may be one of the most common causes of tremor and balance problems in the adult population," said study co-author Dr. Randi Hagerman, medical director of UC-Davis' MIND Institute. "Yet, it is being misdiagnosed because neurologists who see adults with movement disorders are not aware that they need to look for a family history of fragile X in grandchildren or to check for carriers of the gene mutation."

University of California, Davis, researchers studied 192 California adults ages 50 and over who were relatives of children with fragile X. Overall, 30% of the male carriers studied had the late-onset disorder, and it was found in 75% of male carriers in their 80s.

Standard DNA blood tests can identify fragile X carriers and imaging tests, though there is no known cure for the disorder. Its symptoms, however, can sometimes be treated with some of the same medications used against Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.