Scientists might have found an early detection method for some forms of dementia, according to new research by the University of Arizona and the University of Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences Centre. According to the study published in the journal Neuropsychologia last month, patients with a rare neurodegenerative brain disorder called Primary Progressive Aphasia, or PPA, show abnormalities in brain function in areas that look structurally normal on an MRI scan.

Brain show functional defects

But what she and her team discover was that the brain show functional defects; hence in regions that were not yet showing structural damage on MRI. Structural MRI provides 3D visualization 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 decrease 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.

Kielar and her colleagues compare brain scans of patients with PPA to healthy controls while both groups perform language tasks. The researchers also image participants’ brains while at rest. The functional defects were relate 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.

Drugs design to treat dementia

Identifying the discrepancy between a PPA brain’s structural; also functional integrity be use as an early detection method. This is promising because “many drugs design to treat dementia; hence are proving to be not really affective and that might be because we’re detecting the brain damage too late,” Kielar said. Often, people don’t come in for help until their neurons are already dead.

They can do compensation therapies to delay disease progress; but once brain cells are dead, we can’t get them back.” This technique will allow patients to get ahead of the damage. Kielar acknowledge that this was a small study; which is partially because PPA is such a rare form of dementia; also that further investigation is need. Next, she hopes to uncover why this structural and functional mismatch is happening in PPA brains.

“It’s interesting that the affect areas are so far from the neuro degeneration,” Kielar said. One reason this might be happening is that those areas could be connect with white matter tracts; which facilitate communication between different brain regions. When one area is dead; so the area connect to it does not get normal input. It doesn’t know what to do, so it starts to lose its function and atrophy because it doesn’t get stimulation.