Brain scans

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It was more than 2 milleniums ago that Hippocrates, the famous greek physician diagnosed and detailed a mental condition that caused intense hallucinations and agitation that happened to those affected by certain types of inflammation and fever. He called it phrenitis. At the time, and ever since, the cause was thought to be a toxin disorder related to internal fluid distribution. But a precise and convincing cause was never found.

  • However, an Australian scientist recently analyzed a number of brain scans made during episodes of delirium and found out the exact workings of the brain in the midst of this condition that remarkably resembles phrenitis. Delirium is currently described as a state of extreme confusion and wavering self awareness that may in some cases lead to hallucinations. It affects more than half of all people over 65 years old that are admitted to care centers, which makes it a prioritized issue that definitely needs a response sooner rather than later.
  • Thankfully, the research team led by Gideon Caplan from the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney was able to clear a lot of the mystery surrounding this elusive state of mind. After using Positron Emission Tomography to do a more thorough analysis of the brain scans of the 13 elderly subjects suffering from delirium, the team found that the key component was a part of the brain called PCC or Posterior Cingulate Cortex that was known to have an important effect on our awareness, memory and sensory system.

During an episode of delirium, the scans showed a noticeable decrease in the metabolism of the PCC. A further analysis of 6 more brain scans after the delirium episode confirmed the team’s suspicion that levels of PCC metabolism were the culprit as these were back to their normal amounts post-delirium.

The study is far from being the last step in getting to know this condition, but it provides the medical community with a starting point that is based in fact and may lead to concrete solutions in the near future.