Detecting changes to cognition early on is important for the effective treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The Memory and Learning: Cognitive Processes Underlying Disorders of Memory study is assessing novel techniques for detecting and monitoring memory problems due to the disease. Reliable measures are also needed to be able to track problems with memory and manage symptoms as they arise. The study team is looking to discover if the novel assessments used would make a useful addition to standard clinical assessment of detecting Alzheimer’s and to differentiate between different types of dementia.

We caught up with Chief Investigator, Dr Mario A Parra, to find out more about this study currently looking for participants through Join Dementia Research.

Dr Mario A Parra

Dr Mario A Parra

What are the main aims of the Memory and Learning study?

The study aims to investigate the cognitive functions that underlie disorders of memory in older adults who may be at risk of developing dementia. Particularly, it will inform about the memory functions that are most sensitive to the very early stages of dementia conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

What does it involve for a participant?

The study comprises a core study and other sub-studies. The main study involves assessment of memory and other mental functions such as attention, concentration and language. It is split into two one-hour assessment sessions, which will take place on different days. The assessment provides a comprehensive picture of current mental abilities. A number of questionnaires and novel computerised tests will be used during this assessment.

Pound Hill SurgeryThese can either take place at the Psychology department of the University of Edinburgh or at the participant’s own home. Any travel costs will be reimbursed. This study also draws on the experience of carers, who will be asked to complete some questionnaires.

People entering the core study may be also eligible to take part in the sub-studies. These involve collecting brain imaging data using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (an MRI scan) and an Electroencephalogram (EEG, which records brain activity).

How long is the study for? / Is it a one-off visit?

The core study involves longitudinal assessments. We aim to provide yearly follow-up assessments. The study will be running until December 2020.

What do you hope the outcomes of the study will be?

We are investigating newly developed memory tests which have consistently shown enough sensitivity to identify very subtle memory deficits. Such deficits are often unnoticed by the affected individuals thus suggesting the little impact they have had on daily living experiences and quality of life. This evidence suggests that we may be able to identify cognitive decline prior to the onset of dementia in people who have just started to show very early memory symptoms.

Participants are assessed with state of the art measures of mental abilities and results will be fed back to consultants to adjust care plans as necessary. The results of this research will be extremely useful in assessing the diagnostic utility of these novel measures. If they prove to reliably detect changes early in disease progression there will be a strong case for their inclusion in the clinical assessment of at-risk individuals.

Where is the study based?

The memory and other mental functions assessment can either take place at the Psychology department of the University of Edinburgh or at the participant’s own home.
For participants who take part in the sub-studies, the MRI assessments take place at the Brain Research Imaging Centre of the University of Edinburgh. The EEG assessments take place at the recently launched Neurophysiology Laboratory at Heriot-Watt University.

Why are you interested in dementia research?

Dementia is a paradox. It strikes us just in that moment of our life from where we are planning to contemplate with joy the outcomes from the journey while we embark with a rushed enthusiasm on a new trip. The mere fact that little can be done at present to detect such a disorder and cure it provides enough motivation to restlessly fight for promising solutions. The landscape of dementia research has changed dramatically over the last few years. The growing awareness about this global disorder, the support we are receiving from funding bodies, and the enthusiasm from research volunteers to jointly defeat dementia, all provide the best fuel to stop this devastating condition. From the cognitive neuroscience area we feel we have reached the best moment ever. Our understanding of the impact of dementia on mental functions is enabling us to develop tests than can inform about very early cognitive deficits which have gone unnoticed to date not only by people with dementia but also by health practitioners. There won’t be cure of dementia if there is no early detection and there won’t be early detection if we do not have available inexpensive, non-invasive, and reliable assessment methods that can be used to screen for dementia among affected people. Contributing such methods is the key motivation of my work.


We are looking for participants with mild Alzheimer’s disease in the Lothian and Forth Valley regions of Scotland.

two-people-discussing-V02You can see if you are eligible for this study – and others around the nation by logging into your Join Dementia Research account.
Still not registered with Join Dementia Research? Why not sign up today?