Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is characterized by degeneration of dopaminergic and other neurons, leading to motor and non-motor deficits. Abnormal eye movements in PD, including fixations, saccades, and convergence, are well described. However, saccadic reading, which requires serial and alternating saccades and fixations, is not well studied, despite its obvious impact on the quality of life. In this study, we assessed saccadic reading using variations of the King-Devick (KD) test, a rapid single digit number naming test, as a way to assess the ability to make serial left-to-right ocular motor movements necessary for reading. We recruited 42 treated PD patients and 80 age-matched controls and compared their reading times with a variety of measures, including age, duration of disease, Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), the National Eye Institute 25-Item Visual Functioning Questionnaire 25 (VFQ-25), and Montreal Cognitive assessment (MoCA) test. The subjects performed 4 trials of reading 120 single digit numbers aloud as fast as possible without making errors. In each trial, they read 3 pages (KD1, KD2, and KD3), and each page contained 40 numbers per page in 8 lines with 5 numbers/line. We found that PD patients read about 20% slower than controls on all tests (KD1, 2, and 3 tests) (p < 0.02), and both groups read irregularly spaced numbers slower than regularly spaced numbers. Having lines between numbers to guide reading (KD1 tests) did not impact reading time in both PD and controls, but increased visual crowding as a result of decreased spacing between numbers (KD3 tests) was associated with significantly slower reading times in both PD and control groups. Our study revealed that saccadic reading is slower in PD, but controls and PD patients are both impacted by visuospatial planning challenges posed by increased visual crowding and irregularity of number spacing. Reading time did not correlate with UPDRS or MoCA scores in PD patients but significantly correlated with age, duration of disease, and VFQ-25 scores. The presence of convergence insufficiency did not significantly correlate with reading time in PD patients, although on average there was slower reading time in those with convergence insufficiency by 8 s (p = 0.2613). We propose that a simple reading task using 120 single-digit numbers can be used as a screening tool in the clinical setting to assess functional ocular motor difficulties in Parkinson’s disease that can have a profound impact on quality of life.

Summary Points:

  • There was significantly slower reading in PD compared with age-matched controls. PD patients read 11 seconds or 20% slower compared with controls.
  • KD reading times significantly correlated with PD disease duration.
  • Health related quality of life scores using the Visual Function Questionnaire correlated significantly with KD reading times.
  • Although extremely important as a part of daily living, reading abilities are not typically assessed in the clinical setting. The KD test is one such test that can be readily used to assess ocular motor abilities necessary in reading that is relatively not impacted by the native language abilities.
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