Within the neuropsychology research group at RICE we are currently running a range of different research studies looking at aspects of memory change, cognitive decline and rehabilitation. Some of the key areas we are actively exploring are listed below.
The cognitive changes which occur alongside dementia can be extremely debilitating and often significantly affect an individual’s ability to socialise, engage in daily activities and maintain a good quality of life. At RICE we are currently exploring a number of different techniques to combat cognitive decline in dementia. One particular area of interest has been exploring a range of individualised training techniques for maintaining and/or relearning cognitive skills in individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease or Vascular Dementia. To date, we have found that a number of these rehabilitation techniques (including a technique called Errorless Learning) have proved effective for relearning practical skills (such as remembering to take medication) and for relearning the names of objects and words which had previously been forgotten. Our research on cognitive rehabilitation has lead, at least in part, to the development of a Cognitive Stimulation Therapy group which runs twice a year to support individuals with cognitive disorders resulting from dementia.
Developing Sensitive Assessments of Cognitive Decline
Determining the overall magnitude and pattern of cognitive impairment in an individual is central to deciding whether that person may be suffering from dementia or not. At RICE we are constantly exploring which neuropsychological tests provide the best indication of dementia. Presently we are exploring the sensitivity of the Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination revised (ACE-r) – a screening tool for assessing memory and other cognitive functions – in patients attending our memory clinic and in a sample of healthy older adults without memory impairments. The results of this study will help us improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis within our Memory Clinic and will also provide valuable information regarding the reliability and utility of the ACE-r for assessing cognitive function in older adults.
Understanding the Dementia Spectrum
Many different forms of dementia exist and each of these disorders can have quite different cognitive, behavioural, physical and emotional symptoms (see About Memory and Dementia). At RICE we have a longstanding research programme exploring the core differences between the various manifestations of dementia. In collaboration with the Neuroscience and Aphasia Research Unit at the University of Manchester we are exploring the nature of cognitive changes in Semantic Dementia, a rare form of Frontotemporal Dementia characterised by a selective loss of conceptual knowledge (i.e., loss of factual or encyclopaedic information). Extensive research has also explored the nature of memory and visuospatial changes in Posterior Cortical Atrophy an atypical manifestation of Alzheimer’s Disease which predominantly affects an individual’s ability to perceive the visual and spatial elements of their environment. Finally, understanding the nature of speech and language dysfunction in forms of dementia such as Progressive Non-Fluent Aphasia (PNFA) has recently become a core area of research interest. Language problems are not uncommon in dementia and difficulties with communication can greatly affect an individual’s quality of life. Presently we are exploring the specific patterns of language breakdown which can occur in PNFA – as well as other forms of dementia – in an attempt to develop rehabilitation techniques to help individuals cope with these language difficulties in day-to-day life.