Early hallucinations in Parkinson’s disease linked to faster cognitive decline

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Have you ever experienced the eerie feeling of someone standing behind you, only to turn around and find no one there?

This sensation is known as a “presence hallucination,” and it’s more common than you might think, especially among individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Surprisingly, these hallucinations often go unreported, brushed off as a side effect of medication or simply ignored.

New research from scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) sheds light on the significance of these early hallucinations in Parkinson’s disease.

The study suggests that patients recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease who experience these hallucinations are at a higher risk of rapid cognitive decline.

The Significance of Early Hallucinations

Lead author of the study, Fosco Bernasconi, emphasizes the importance of taking early hallucinations seriously in Parkinson’s disease.

He states, “If you have Parkinson’s disease and experience hallucinations, even minor ones, then you should share this information with your doctor as soon as possible.”

While the study focuses on Parkinson’s disease, the findings could have implications for other neurodegenerative conditions as well.

The study, conducted in collaboration between EPFL and Sant Pau Hospital in Barcelona, involved 75 patients aged between 60 and 70, all diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

These patients underwent a series of assessments, including neuropsychological interviews to evaluate cognitive status, neuropsychiatric interviews to determine the presence of hallucinations, and electroencephalography (EEG) measurements to monitor brain activity at rest.

The Impact of Early Hallucinations

Analysis of the data revealed a significant link between early hallucinations and faster cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease patients.

Over the course of five years, those who experienced early hallucinations exhibited a more rapid decline in frontal executive function.

This decline was also associated with a specific pattern of brain activity measured by EEG during the initial assessment, but only in those with hallucinations from the outset.

Early Detection for Early Intervention

Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases are often diagnosed when they have already advanced, limiting the effectiveness of preventive measures and therapies.

The study authors are working to change this by identifying early signs, such as minor hallucinations, that can trigger early intervention to slow down the progression of cognitive and psychiatric symptoms.

Hallucinations are lesser-known symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and they tend to appear early in the disease’s course.

In fact, approximately one in every two Parkinson’s patients experiences hallucinations regularly.

Among these, early hallucinations are of particular concern because they occur in about a third of patients before the classic motor symptoms like trembling manifest.

Traditionally, Parkinson’s disease is defined primarily by its motor symptoms, such as resting tremors, muscle rigidity, and slowness of movement. However, it also brings a range of non-motor symptoms that often appear early in the disease’s progression.

Complex visual hallucinations, like seeing people who aren’t there, have previously been linked to cognitive decline and dementia in Parkinson’s disease.

However, these typically occur in later stages of the disease and cannot serve as early markers for cognitive decline.

Early Markers for Early Management

The study’s findings suggest the need for early markers to identify individuals at risk of a more severe form of Parkinson’s disease characterized by rapid cognitive decline and dementia.

Such markers could enable the development of personalized therapies aimed at modifying the disease’s course and improving cognitive function.

The researchers are working on neurotechnology methods and procedures to achieve this goal.

In conclusion, while early hallucinations in Parkinson’s disease have been underreported and often overlooked, they hold significant implications for the patient’s cognitive well-being.

Detecting these early signs could pave the way for more effective interventions and therapies, ultimately improving the quality of life for individuals living with Parkinson’s disease.

If you care about Parkinson’s disease, please read studies about Vitamin E that may help prevent Parkinson’s disease, and Vitamin D could benefit people with Parkinson’s disease.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about new way to treat Parkinson’s disease, and results showing COVID-19 may be linked to Parkinson’s disease.

The research findings can be found in Nature Mental Health.

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