Researchers have discovered a way to detect the progression of dementia in people with Parkinson’s disease by measuring iron stores in their brains.
A team of researchers found that it is possible to measure the progression of dementia in people with Parkinson’s disease by tracking iron stores in their brains. Their findings appeared in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.
The exploration of the progression of dementia in Parkinson’s usually focuses on the loss of sections of the brain. However, brain imaging can usually only detect these changes late in disease progression.
As a consequence, doctors often assess the progression of dementia by monitoring symptoms. The new research suggests that scanning techniques could detect dementia much earlier and with greater precision.
Dementia and Parkinson’s
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), characteristics of dementia include loss of the ability to think, reason, or remember. Other signs include changes in a person’s behavior that affect their everyday life.
Several diseases can cause dementia, and a person can sometimes have mixed dementias at the same time. There is a strong association between Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Up to 50% of people with Parkinson’s are also affected by dementia. People with Parkinson’s may experience joint stiffness, tremors or tremors, and difficulty walking.
It develops when a person’s brain cells die, although why this happens is not yet clear. At its extreme, Parkinson’s can damage large volumes of a person’s brain. It is at this stage that scans can detect it. It is the loss of this brain volume that often causes the symptoms of dementia. According to the NIA, people with Parkinson’s often have a buildup of protein in their brains, something that is also seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The study authors in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry note that the presence of iron in a person’s brain, a natural part of the aging process, has been linked to an increased presence of protein.
A new scanning technique
Instead of measuring Parkinson’s by scanning for brain volume loss, the researchers used a new technique called quantitative susceptibility mapping, which uses magnetic resonance imaging.
The team selected 97 people with Parkinson’s disease who had received a diagnosis of the disease in the previous 10 years, as well as a control group of 37 age-equivalent people who did not have the disease.
The researchers evaluated both groups for their thinking and memory skills, and also for their motor functions that affect balance and movement. The researchers then used the new scanning technique to measure the presence of iron in each person’s brain. They compared the amount of iron to their thinking, memory, and motor function scores.
They found that people who had higher amounts of iron in their brains performed worse in their thinking, memory and motor functions, depending on the location of the iron accumulation.
For example, people with more iron in the hippocampus and thalamus regions of their brain, which affect thinking and memory, fared worse in these areas.
Better dementia diagnosis?
The findings are significant in that they provide researchers with a new way to identify the development of dementia much earlier and with more precision than current techniques.
This would be invaluable for researchers conducting clinical studies on the development of Parkinson’s and dementia, but could also be potentially valuable for the early diagnosis of dementia.
According to the first author of the study, George Thomas, “It is really promising to see measures like this, which can potentially track the variable progression of Parkinson’s disease, as it could help doctors design better treatment plans for people based on of how their condition manifests itself”.