Many people with Parkinson‘s disease eventually develop dementia as disease progresses. While it is incurable, doctors do have tool to help manage the condition and improve the quality of life, if dementia signs are noticed early. Now scientists from UCL have developed a new 'Cats-and-Dogs' test to predict dementia among Parkinson’s patients.
This is a relatively quick test, which is very important. Early signs of dementia in Parkinson‘s patients are pretty much unnoticeable and thus doctors cannot prescribe the right medicine early. Scientists from UCL have discovered a peculiar effect of the disease – people with Parkinson‘s have trouble reading CAPTCHA images – those blurry distorted text images designed to differentiate between robots and people. And so scientists created an image that shows a creature – a cat or a dog. A healthy person would be able to quickly say what the animal in the picture is, but people with early signs of dementia will struggle.
Scientists conducted experiments with 20 people with Parkinson’s and 11 controls. Scientists found that those who did not do well on this cat-dog picture test, did not fare well in more in-depth tests of overall cognitive performance. Furthermore, this new test proved to be more accurate than existing visuospatial tests. 'Cats-and-Dogs' test is more sensitive and thus can help diagnosing dementia in people with Parkinson‘s earlier. Added visual noise increases the difficulty of the test. Furthermore, this test is also significantly quicker than current alternatives, but scientists do not celebrate early.
Now researchers are looking forward to next steps of this study. They are launching a longitudinal study which will help seeing how 'Cats-and-Dogs' test can be used to predict cognitive decline over a certain period of time. In this research phase scientists will measure the decline using brain scanning and retinal imaging. Finally, researchers are hoping to eventually launch an online tool with images that will help people conduct simple tests at home.
Dementia is a horrible disease, accounting for a big portion of human deaths every year. Prevention and diagnostic techniques are the only tools we currently have to combat it, but, hopefully, scientists will find ways to preserving youth of the brain for longer.