Kidney disease doesn't just affect a patient's body, it's hard on their brain too—but no one really knows to what extent. Scientists at Queens University, Canada, are conducting studies into the kidney-brain connection.
Patients on dialysis are being assessed by the KINARM, a state-of-the-art robotic system developed at Queen’s University, to measure the brain effects of kidney disease. The KINARM precisely measures what’s happening in an individual’s brain or nervous system by testing their ability to perform ordinary movements and tasks.
Leading the research is Dr. Boyd, a critical care doctor and neurologist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre who looks at the links between oxygen levels and brain injury in intensive care patients. He says the project was sparked by a casual conversation with Dr. Rachel Holden, a kidney disease specialist at KHSC whose patients are often in intensive care. “We were talking about sensors for tissue oxygenation in the brain, she suggested that we should use them on her patients,” says Dr. Boyd.
Early indications have been startling, he says. “We’ve been told by the KINARM team that our cohort of patients are some of the most cognitively impaired they’ve ever seen.”
While there is some evidence showing that kidney disease, especially in its later stages, can affect some brain functions such as attention and memory, the conventional pen-and-paper tests used to track these effects produce variable and subjective results – and they can’t diagnose the motor effects of brain injury, says Dr. Boyd.
The researchers will compare patients’ test scores and oxygenation data to study which procedure – hemodialysis or home dialysis -- has the better effect on patients’ cognitive function.
You can read the full report on the University's website.