Are attention and brain activity connected to visual memory problems in people with Alzheimer’s?
Understanding how an individual’s memory performance changes when affected by Alzheimer’s and the relation between visual attention and memory could contribute to improvements in diagnosing the disease. The ‘Formation, maintenance and use of top-down knowledge in Alzheimer Dementia’ study will therefore explore these factors to gain better insight.
We spoke to Dr Moreno Coco, Chief Investigator of the study to find out more.
What are the main aims of the study?
Our main aim is to understand how attention and brain activity might reflect the degradation of visual memory when Alzheimer Disease kicks in. Within this framework, we examine the use of semantic information, for example, knowing that in a kitchen you would usually find cutlery, and investigate how such information is still maintained and used in people with Alzheimer’s. Also, this research will be used to develop new tests aimed at detecting the insurgence of Alzheimer’s disease, when it has not yet fully manifested.
What does it involve for a participant?
A participant would first be tested on her/his general memory status by being asked, for example, to memorise and orally recall nouns. Then, he/she will be asked to perform simple visual tasks involving memory, such as looking at a set of photographs then later looking at the same, similar or different images and spotting whether some details in them have changed, or asked to remember whether he/she saw a scene or not.
How long is the study for?
This study is divided into three sessions, and participants are invited to partake in all of them with no obligation. Sessions 1 and 2 take a maximum of two hours altogether, and session 3 is about 1 and half hour long.
Session 1: we test the general status of your memory by running simple tests, where you are asked, for example, to memorise and orally recall nouns. This phase helps us assessing very broadly your cognition.
Session 2: we test your visual short-term memory (e.g. remembering where you left the keys after having just placed them on a table). In particular, you will look at some photographs, and then we present you with the very same scene or with the scene with a change in it. We ask you to tell us if you have noticed a change in the photograph, or not. For example, a fork might have moved from a table to a counter in a kitchen scene.
Session 3: we test long-term visual memory (e.g. remembering if you have watched a specific movie last night). In particular, we present you with a relatively long sequence of images. Then, we present you with a new sequence of images that might contain, or not, the images previously shown. Your task is to tell us whether you remember having seen a scene before, or whether it was a new scene.
In sessions 2 and 3, we use an eye-tracker to record your eye-movement as you view the scenes, and electro-physiology EEG equipment to record your brain activity by using small, flat metal discs (electrodes) attached to the scalp.
What do you hope the outcomes of the study will be?
We hope to provide a novel understanding of the mechanisms underlying memory impairment in people with Alzheimer’s disease by looking at visual attention. By finding systematic relations between visual attention and memory performance we aim at designing novel diagnostic tools to assess early stages of Alzheimer’s disease before overt symptoms are obvious; and device cognitive training exercises that may ameliorate the negative consequences of Alzheimer’s.
Where is the study based?
The study is based at the University of Edinburgh in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Languages sciences at the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (7 George Square). Transportation to and from visits to the Centre can be provided or reimbursed.
Participants need to be:
– aged between 50 and 85 years old
– with a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease or early onset Alzheimer’s disease with vascular dementia
– and in the Lothian area of Scotland.
You can see if you are eligible for this study or others around the nation by logging into your Join Dementia Research account.
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