Atypical parkinsonism, often referred to as Parkinson's Plus Syndromes, is a group of movement disorders that shares many of the prominent physical symptoms of Parkinson disease with additional features that are key to distinguishing them from idiopathic Parkinson disease.  The following are the four most common types of Parkinson's Plus Syndromes (click on each button for more specifc details):


  • Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP)
  • Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)
  • Corticobasal Syndrome (CBS - formerly Corticobasal Degeneration)
  • Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)




These syndromes can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms mimic other conditions, particularly Parkinson disease.  It is important to differentiate Parkinson's Plus Syndromes from Parkinson disease as both treatment and prognosis are different.


Distinguishing Features

In the broadest of terms, the main clinical features that distinguish Parkinson's Plus Syndromes from Parkinson disease are:

  • Limited or no response to levodopa
  • Lack of or an irregular resting tremor
  • Symptoms present on both sides of the body at onset
  • Early issues with
    -   Balance and falls
    -   Cognitive issues
    -   Speech and swallowing issues
  • Faster progression



As with Parkinson disease, symptoms will progress over time; however symptoms tend to progress more rapidly in comparison to Parkinson's.  Due to their rapid rate of progression, those diagnosed with a Parkinson's Plus Syndrome are more likely to experience substantial disability within five years.


As a result of variations in progression, age, severity of symptoms, and an individual's overall health it is not possible to accurately predict life expectancy.  However, in studies that have been undertaken the average alife expectancy after diagnosis of a Parkinson's Plus Syndrome ranges between six to ten years.  This is a marked difference from Parkinson disease wherein life expectancy is the same as those without Parkinson's.


Non-Drug Management of Parkinson's Plus Syndromes

Beyond medications, various therapies and supports are available to help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

  • Physiotherapy can be used to help with movement and balance issues
  • Occupational therapy may help to improve skills needed on a day-to-day basis
  • Speech and language therapy can be utilized to assist with both speech and swallowing issues
  • Counselling may be of benefit in helping to come to terms with a diagnosis, alleviate stress, and to create goals and action plans to empower one's self
  • Support groups can help ease feelings of isolation, provide peer support, and offer learning opportunities
  • Physical, speech/voice, cognitive and social programming can offer opportunities to engage with others, keep active and live well

For Family and Care Partners

The diagnosis of a Parkinson's Plus Syndrome has a significant impact on those close to the person diagnosed.  A rapidly progressing disability gives rise to an increasing need for care and support which can leave care partners and families feeling isolated and burnt-out.  It is important for care partners and family to remember to take care of themselves as well.  Asking for help when needed  and setting self-care goals can be vital to reducing stress and improving caregiving.


How Parkinson Association of Alberta can help

Parkinson Association of Alberta recognizes that every person is unique and so is the treatment of a Parkinson disease and Parkinson's Plus Syndromes. We  provide support, services and programs for all people with Parkinsonism conditions (and their families).  These supports and services include one-on-one/family supportive counselling, Support Groups (including a Parkinson's Plus-specific group in Calgary - CLICK HERE for info), education sessions, assistance in identifying and locating community and government resources, and much more.  To find out more please visit your Regional webpage or call us toll-free at 1-800-561-1911.


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