Abdullah Al Jaja, Téa Sue, Margaret Prenger, Ken N. Seergobin, Jessica A. Grahn, Penny A. MacDonald

Alprazolam Reduces Freezing of Gait (FOG) and Improves FOG-Related Gait Deficiencies

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)

Background. Freezing of gait (FOG) is an intractable motor symptom in Parkinson’s disease (PD) that increases fall risk and impairs the quality of life. FOG has been associated with anxiety, with experimental support for the notion that anxiety itself provokes FOG. We investigated the effect of acute anxiety reduction via alprazolam on FOG in PD. Methods. In ten patients with PD, FOG, and normal cognition, we administered 0.25 mg alprazolam in one session and placebo in another, in counterbalanced order. At each session, on separate days, patients walked on a pressure-sensitive walkway. Using Oculus Rift virtual-reality goggles, patients walked along a plank that appeared to be (a) level with the floor, in the low-anxiety condition or (b) raised high above the ground, in the high-anxiety conditions. In this way, we assessed the impacts of anxiety and alprazolam (i.e., anxiety reduction) on FOG frequency and other gait parameters. Results. FOG events appeared only in the high-anxiety conditions. Alprazolam significantly reduced subjective and objective measures of anxiety, as well as the prevalence of FOG (p=0.05). Furthermore, alprazolam improved swing time (p<0.05) and gait variability in all conditions, particularly during the elevated plank trials. Interpretation. Our results suggest that (1) anxiety induces FOG, and (2) alprazolam concomitantly reduces anxiety and FOG. Alprazolam further improved gait stability (i.e., swing time and gait variability). These findings reveal that anxiety triggers FOG in PD. Treating anxiety can reduce FOG and improve gait stability, potentially offering new therapeutic avenues for this intractable and disabling symptom in PD.

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