According to research by Queen’s, automated tasks are performed more easily by people with Parkinson’s disease. However, sufferers of this disease tend to find it more difficult to switch from easy to hard tasks than others. These new findings are another step towards understanding how the cognitive ability level of the brain is impaired by this illness.
A sample of people with Parkinson’s disease, along with a control group of normal people was used in the course of this study, were first instructed to look at a light when it came on. Here, patients of the disease performed far better than normal candidates. However, when told to alter this behavior to looking away from the light when it was turned on, Parkinson’s patients struggled. In fact, sufferers of the disease found it difficult to even prepare to change their behavior when told to do so.
Douglas Munoz, director of the Queen’s Centre for Neuroscience Studies and a Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience said “We often think of Parkinson’s disease as being a disorder of motor function. But the issue is that the same circuit can affect more cognitive functions like planning and decision-making.”
Ian Cameron, a PhD student and lead author of this study, believes that these findings are significant in more ways than one. It not only highlights the fact that currently prescribed medications that affect motor functioning could further upset a patient’s cognitive balance, but also shows how biased Parkinson’s patients’ brains are towards performing an automated response.
Research is now being conducted to study which parts of the brain are affected by medications currently used to treat the symptoms of the disease. According to Mr. Cameron, functional brain imaging in Parkinson’s patients will be used to help out in this study.
“Neuropsychologia”, an international interdisciplinary journal of cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, have recently published the results of this research.
Photo courtesy Queen’s University News Centre
Caption: Professor Douglas Munoz and PhD student Ian Cameron are researching the cognitive effects of Parkinson’s disease.