Jessica Trung, Master’s Student, University of Montreal
Funded by Quebec Parkinson Network
Graduate Student Award: $30,000 over two years

Cognitive Impairment and Parkinson’s

Mild cognitive impairment is one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that dopamine-replacement therapy does not relieve. That’s why researchers at the University of Montreal are investigating a new kind of therapy that doesn’t involve medication.

Jessica Trung, a Master’s student studying neuroscience at the university, is trying TMS – Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation – to see if it increases cognition in people with Parkinson’s who have mild cognitive impairment.

TMS is a procedure that uses magnetic fields generated by a large coil to stimulate cells and circuits in the brain. The non-invasive procedure is already being used to treat people who have depression, as well as people with mild cognitive impairment caused by a stroke.

Now, Trung believes that by activating the right brain cells, TMS may improve executive functioning, memory, language, and even visual/spatial skills.

“We can move the coil depending upon which region of the brain we want to target,” says Trung. “In our case, this is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which has been shown previously to be linked with executive functioning like planning and organization.”

Trung and her colleagues will test people’s cognitive functioning before and after they are treated with TMS, compared to a group of people who receive only a placebo treatment. They will also be assessing how long the effects of TMS last, to see if any improvements in executive functioning persist over time.
So far, Trung is encouraged by the results she has seen in the people the study has been treating.

“We found an increase in cognition, executive functions, retention and language lasting up to a month,” she says.

Initially, when Trung embarked on an internship in a lab working on Parkinson’s disease, she thought Parkinson’s was confined primarily to symptoms concerning motor skills, such as tremors or stiffness and rigidity. When she learned about the non-motor symptoms, such as cognitive problems, she realized how greatly Parkinson’s disease affects people’s quality of life, and decided to focus her research in that area.

Now Trung believes TMS will provide a new, non-invasive treatment that offers hope.

“I’m hoping it will increase cognition and maybe slow the cognitive decline of people with Parkinson’s disease and postpone the evolution to dementia that some people experience,” she says.