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Early detection of dementia in Parkinson’s disease might be key to treatment

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If Parkinson’s disease wasn’t bad enough for families to have to learn to deal with, about 80% of patients also develop dementia. That’s the problem with the brain; while it has the amazing ability to adapt to just about anything, it can’t fix everything. There are no particularly good solutions to Parkinson’s or dementia, however, early detection of dementia is key to keeping it at bay and a new study may have a way to do just that.

Researchers have found significant variability in brain signaling that could serve as a predictive marker for identifying which patients are at highest risk of dementia. Which really illustrates the plasticity of the brain as it tries to overcome dementia it changes the way signaling occurs. By measuring this brain signal variability as an early indicator of impaired cognitive function and information processing we can determine if someone who has Parkinson’s disease will be likely to suffer from dementia and can be treated accordingly before symptoms surface.

Now because we cannot just look at a person and determine how the brain is firing, the team used resting-state electroencephalography (EEG) for an average of 3 years in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Then the group comparing the findings in those in whom dementia did or did not develop.

More specifically, the researchers measured specific disruptions in brain communication that were present before symptoms of dementia were apparent. The team found a large enough difference to be able to show a definite difference in brain functions between the groups. So again, because early detection and treatment of dementia are the keys to improving the quality of life of patients — and let’s face it for families too — this may be the best early detection system we can have at the moment.

If the findings can be confirmed by additional studies, these brain signaling alterations could also help identify the best patients to include in trials of new neuroprotective drugs.

“Early diagnosis is key to treatment of dementia patients with the limited options currently available,” says Christopher Pawela, PhD, Co-Editor-in-Chief of Brain Connectivity.

“EEG is a lower-cost alternative to many modern diagnostic imaging modalities. If a reliable predictive marker for dementia could be developed using EEG, it may find lower barriers to clinical use.”

This could also help researchers in general crack how the brain communicates with itself since we still have no idea how to figure out the language of the brain — not that we aren’t getting close — but it is like if you dropped the average English speaker in the middle of one of those tribes in the amazon that have never had outside contact. Sure you might be able to figure out the generalities of communication, but having a meaningful conversation might be difficult.

Becuase these changes in the brain have outside effects — in this case dementia — it can help us figure out what the brain is trying to do to compensate and what changes the brain can and cannot make. You know, since the brain is not this ever powerful thing that it (seriously) wants you to think it is. It’s more of the wizard of Oz scenario, yep all powerful until you look behind the curtain. But that is a good thing, you want to be able to fix something your brain cannot and if it were in control — yet still suffering from dementia — then it might be a lot harder to do.

Bertrand, J., McIntosh, A., Postuma, R., Kovacevic, N., Latreille, V., Panisset, M., Chouinard, S., & Gagnon, J. (2016). Brain Connectivity Alterations Are Associated with the Development of Dementia in Parkinson’s Disease Brain Connectivity, 6 (3), 216-224 DOI: 10.1089/brain.2015.0390

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