Maxime Doiron,
Doctoral candidate, Laval University
Psychosocial Doctoral Award: $105,000 over three years

Cognitive and neuropsychiatric profiles of smokers and non-smokers with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease

Neuroscientist Maxime Doiron is intrigued by some studies that suggest people who have Parkinson’s disease are less likely to have cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

At Laval University, Doiron, a doctoral candidate, is studying what happens to people with Parkinson’s disease who do have those risk factors – along with their exposure to smoke and their alcohol consumption. He’s determining whether something in their brains causes psychiatric or psychological conditions to develop, besides cardiovascular disease.

“I’m looking at the impact all of these factors have on the brain functioning and the psychiatrist status of the patients,” Doiron says. “Dementia, apathy and depression are more frequent in people with Parkinson’s disease than in people who are healthy.”

Depression and apathy are abnormally frequent in people with Parkinson’s, but Doiron doesn’t know if people experience these symptoms as a reaction to learning they have the disease and coping with their disabilities – or if there are physiological reasons – or both.

By interviewing patients and administering a battery of neuropsychological tests and questionnaires that measure their executive functioning ability, memory, attention and visual and spatial skills, and correlating them with vascular risk factors, medical records and environmental symptoms, Doiron is developing a database to determine if there are vascular causes for the dementia, apathy and depression some people with Parkinson’s experience.

“Knowing that, we will be in a better position to diagnose cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease earlier and to differentiate between people at higher risk of dementia,” Doiron says.

Longer-term, Doiron also hopes his work will help customize the treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease to better attend to their high blood pressure, diabetes or smoking cessation.

Close to home, Doiron has an important impetus for his work – his girlfriend Julie’s grandmother has Parkinson’s disease. She’s glad young people like Doiron are working on finding answers.

“Even though my research is not focused on the treatment of the disease, I think it will bring us important information to help people have a better quality of life and to lessen the adverse effects of other factors than motor symptoms,” Doiron says.