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Parkinson's Drug could help Aging Adults Make Decisions

Researchers with the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging have found that a drug commonly used to treat Parkinson's disease could possible help reverse age-related decision making issues in older individuals. These researchers state that poor decision making abilities often occur as people age. This is due to a decline in the brain's ability to learn from experiences. To get rewarded from choices we make, we need the ability to learn and make good decisions.

Approximately 1 million people in the U.S. have Parkinson's disease, which is more than the number of those diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and Lou Gehrig's combined. Experts report that as many as 8 million people worldwide have Parkinson's, and men are one and a half times more likely to develop it. Additionally, the combined cost of Parkinson's is estimated to be around $25 billion per year just in the U.S.

Dopamine Needed for Adequate Decision Making

This study describes how changes in the brain activity patterns could help explain why young people are better with decision making. The nucleus accumbens is a region of the brain that interprets the difference between an expected reward someone gets from a decision and the actual received award. When a person learns from their actions, and modifies certain behaviors to make good choices the next time, this occurs from the brain chemical dopamine.

Dr. Rumana Chowdhury led this study at the University College in London. He reports that dopamine declines as a person ages, so the research team sought to learn if it had any effect on reward-based decision making. They found that when older people were given a particular drug, the medicine increased dopamine in their brains, and their ability to learn from rewards got better. Chowdhury also noted that the older participants had a history of making bad decisions, and their improvement was comparable to people in their 20s.

Researchers Use Testing to Evaluate Drug Treatment with L-DOPA

The researchers used behavioral testing and brain imaging techniques to investigate the decision making process of 22 volunteer participants who were in their 20s. They compared these individuals with 32 health volunteers who were in their 70s. The drug give to the participants was Levodopa (L-DOPA), which is known to increase levels of dopamine in the brain.

The older volunteers showed significant improvement on behavioral learning tasks (called the two-arm bandit) when given the drug therapy. The task mimicked the decisions gamblers make when playing slot machines. The amount of money they won was used to evaluate performance before and after the drug treatment.

Conclusions

This study, published in Nature Neuroscience offers hope that therapeutic approaches could allow older adults to function better and improve their overall quality of life. The findings suggest that subtle cognitive changes take place as we age, but with L-DOPA, decision making can be improved for this population of people

Resources:

http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/03/24/parkinsons-drug-may-help-older-people-make-decisions/52933.html

http://www.pdf.org/en/parkinson_statistics

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