Complications of Parkinson’s disease - Neuronal correlates of turning impairments in Parkinson's disease
Caroline Paquette, Assistant Professor
Neuronal correlates of turning impairments in Parkinson's disease
Although most of us take it for granted, turning while we walk is a complicated job. Our brains must calculate where to place our feet, and how to adjust and maintain our balance when we shift direction – all in a split second.
For some people with Parkinson’s disease, turning often results in freezing. Without warning, they find themselves rooted in place. They cannot simply will themselves to move forward.
At McGill University, Caroline Paquette, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, is trying to determine what regions of the brain are affected in people with Parkinson’s disease who experience freezing. She’s using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to scan the brains of people with Parkinson’s after they have walked through a series of obstacles that require turns.
“We know that turning is complex walking, and it’s a huge trigger for freezing,” Paquette says. “It’s quite a big problem in people with Parkinson’s disease, because if your mobility is affected, it affects your quality of life and independence.”
By studying those brain scans of people with Parkinson’s who freeze while walking, as well as the scans of people with Parkinson’s who are not affected by freezing, and comparing those images to scans from people without Parkinson’s disease, Paquette hopes to identify the specific areas of the brain that turning activates.
Paquette will then use another non-invasive technology, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, to stimulate those areas of the brain that seem under-utilized in people who are experiencing freezing.
Coupling TMS, which involves using magnets to create electrical activity in the brain, with current rehabilitation regimes might reduce or eliminate freezing, Paquette believes.
Rehabilitation is already somewhat effective in reducing incidents of freezing, Paquette noted.
For Paquette, this Parkinson Society grant comes at a critical time because the study will help launch her reputation and her research.
“This is the key for me to build the basis for my lab and my research program so we can get funding to make better treatment interventions available for people with Parkinson’s disease, to improve their mobility.” Paquette says.