Developing a test to improve diagnosis of different forms of dementia

Lead researcher: Dr Mario Parra

Institution: Heriot-Watt University

Grant type: Project Grant

Duration: 2 years

Amount funded: £199,176

Scientific title: Short-term memory binding: validity as a cognitive biomarker for Alzheimer's disease across cultures and nations

Why did we fund this research? 

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'This is an extremely impressive submission. Dr Parra's organisational skills together with his academic brilliance mark out as an exceptional candidate'

'The tool will be easily accessible at primary care level. It will have global significance in dementia treatment and will look at more effective functional assessment globally.'

What do we already know?

There has been much work in the past focusing on a specific type of long-term memory, and investigating how it is affected in Alzheimer's disease.

The problems with long-term memory that have been found in Alzheimer's disease are also found in normal ageing, as well as other types of dementia, and so changes in this are not specific to Alzheimer's disease. Changes in short-term memory in Alzheimer's disease have not been investigated as thoroughly. 

Dr Parra and his team have shown that a particular test of short-term memory can identify changes that are specific to Alzheimer's disease, as it is not affected during normal ageing or other conditions.

What does this project involve?

Dr Parra will conduct three distinct studies within the course of this research.

Study 1: a detailed study investigating any differences in the short-term memory test between people from different socio-cultural backgrounds. This will involve collecting test data from South America and comparing to the results already gathered in Europe.

Study 2: examine the use of electroencephalogram (EEG) to monitor brain activity along with the short-term memory test as a marker of Alzheimer's disease. This will involve comparing healthy people against people with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's.

Study 3: to develop a new questionnaire to help understand the role of short-term memory in everyday tasks, and develop a virtual reality system to help with activities such as shopping or finances.

How will this benefit people with dementia?

The development and validation of a test to identify differences between the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, healthy ageing and other types of dementia will be useful for more accurate diagnosis. This may allow people to receive a diagnosis, and so begin treatment, sooner.

Additionally, being able to identify people with Alzheimer's disease sooner may be of benefit to researchers when developing treatments that target the earlier stages of Alzheimer's disease.

A new system to assess and rehabilitate daily living functions for people with dementia could help to maintain quality of life for longer.