A preliminary study has found that dementia may only affect select areas of the brain in the early stages. Through this research, they’ve also uncovered what they believe is a region of the brain that processes spoken words but not written words.
This research was conducted at Northwestern University. It is considered preliminary because it only included four patients with primary progressive aphasia (PPA), which is obviously a very small sample size. However, the findings were consistent across all patients in the study, proving that further research is certainly warranted in this area.
PPA is a rare form of dementia that impairs patient’s ability to communicate and currently has no cure or effective therapy. This research could potentially lead to an investigation of a more specialized approach to treatment for these individuals. All patients in this particular study had FTLD-TDP Type A which is an extremely rare form of PPA. Fortunately for these individuals, this form of the condition means they could still communicate through reading and writing. However, for most with PPA, impaired visual and auditory processes can make communication extremely difficult.
Neurodegenerative diseases have long been understood to cause widespread impairment as that is generally the prognosis of those in later stages of their illness. But research is limited as to the effects of these conditions in the early stages.
This recent study specifically aimed to evaluate PPA patient’s comprehension of verbal and visual words.
For instance, patients were shown the word “hippopotamus” written on paper. All of the patients were then able to pick out the correlating image of the hippopotamus on a flash card. However, when the word “hippopotamus” was spoken to them, they could not pick out the proper flash card. While these patients could still speak, and their hearing was not impaired, they were not able to comprehend the auditory word.
The results from this study were published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology.
Researchers hope that it will pave the way for more investigation into a little-studied part of the left brain which they believe specifically processes raw sound and transforms it into auditory word images. Eventually, this could lead to new therapies for PPA that are focused on written communication.
You can read more about these recent findings here.