Measuring iron in the brain can point to dementia

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NEW research finds a strong link between iron levels in the brain and cognitive health.A team of researchers has discovered that it is possible to measure the progression of dementia in people with Parkinson’s disease by tracking iron deposits in their brains.
Their findings appeared in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.
Scanning for dementia progression in Parkinson’s usually focuses on the loss of sections of the brain. However, brain imaging can typically only detect these changes late in the disease’s progression.
As a consequence, doctors typically assess dementia progression by tracking symptoms.
The new research suggests that scanning techniques might be able to detect dementia far earlier and more accurately.
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According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the characteristics of dementia include a loss of the ability to think, reason, or remember. Other signs include changes in a person’s behavior that affect their everyday life.
Various 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 stiffness in their joints, shaking or tremors, and difficulty walking.
It develops when a person’s brain cells die, although it is not yet clear why this happens. 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 also seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The authors of the study 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 the increased presence of protein.
According to the lead author of the study Dr. Rimona Weil from University College London (UCL), Queen Square Institute of Neurology in the United Kingdom, “Iron in the brain is of growing interest to people researching neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and dementias.”