Washington: Researchers have found an early detection method for certain forms of dementia. Patients with a rare neurodegenerative brain disorder, called Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), show abnormalities in brain function in areas that look structurally normal in an MRI scan.
“We wanted to study how degeneration affects the functioning of the brain,” said Aneta Kielar, the study’s lead author and assistant professor in the UA Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences.
Structural MRI provides 3D visualisation of brain structure, which is useful when studying patients with diseases that literally cause brain cells to wither away, like PPA.
Magnetoencephalography, or MEG, on the other hand, “gives you really good spatial precision as to where the brain response originates. We want to know if the decreased brain function is coming from the areas that are already atrophied or areas in an earlier stage of decline,” said Jed Meltzer, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
The findings were published in the Journal of Neuropsychologia.
As part of the study, the researchers compared brain scans of patients with PPA to healthy controls while both groups performed language tasks. The researchers also imaged participants’ brains while at rest. The functional defects were related to worse performance in the tasks, as individuals with PPA lose their ability to speak or understand language while other aspects of cognition are typically preserved.
Identifying the discrepancy between a PPA brain’s structural and functional integrity could be used as an early detection method.
According to the research team, this is promising because many drugs designed to treat dementia are proving to be not really effective and that “might be because we’re detecting the brain damage too late.”
Often, people don’t come in for help until their neurons are already dead.
“We can do compensation therapies to delay disease progression, but once brain cells are dead, we can’t get them back,” Kielar added.
This technique could allow patients to get ahead of the damage.