A minimal interference technique to improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s

Lead Investigator: Professor Sergio Della Sala

Institution: University of Edinburgh

Grant type: PhD

Grant amount: £75,000

Start date: 28/09/11

Completion date: 28/06/15

Scientific Title: Improving memory in amnestic MCI and Alzheimer's disease via minimal interference

What was the project, and what did the researchers do?

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer's disease is a form of memory loss known as amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI). People who are affected often struggle to retain new memories because the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is critical to retaining these memories, is damaged. This project focused on a means of improving memory in people with Alzheimer's disease using a psychological technique known as minimal interference. 

This technique involves giving people time to rest quietly after learning new materials, in order to better absorb new memories. It's thought that this process could benefit people in the early stages of Alzheimer's. 

The researchers examined this technique further by asking participants to learn a route through a virtual reality environment.  Some were then asked to use the minimal interference technique (also known as 'wakeful rest') or perform a 'spot the difference' game for 10 minutes. After this time, participants were questioned about their earlier experience in the virtual environment. The researchers compared the results from younger adults, older adults without dementia and those with amnestic MCI.

This experiment was also extended to examine the effect of sleep on how well people retained memories. Researchers examined and compared the effects of 90 minutes of sleep, wakeful rest and taking part in an engaging activity on how well participants could retain memories of a verbal list of words and learning a new language. 

Finally the researchers examined the effects of engaging in autobiographical activities on the retention of memories, such as thinking about our past and future. They compared the effects of thinking autobiographically, wakeful rest and taking part in an engaging activity, on how well memories were retained. 

What were the key results, and how will this help in the fight against dementia?

The researchers found that the benefits of minimal interference also contributed to people being able to retain complex spatial memories. This type of memory allows a more accurate mental representation of the memory itself. They also found that the 'wakeful rest' technique had different effects on memory retention than sleep does. In addition, thinking autobiographically can also interfere with the retention of new memories.  

These findings have helped further the knowledge and understanding of human memory, memory retention and memory loss. Bringing previous findings from the lab into the real world, the study has shown that the treatment has the capacity to potentially improve the quality of life of people with amnestic MCI and Alzheimer's in the future. 

What happened next? Future work and additional grants

The group will continue to work together on ongoing and future research projects in this area, and are looking to continue to work with those who they collaborated with on this research project. The researchers want to continue to work towards furthering knowledge and understanding of memory loss seen in Alzheimer's disease and developing ways to combat this loss. 

How were people told about the results? Conferences and Publications

Papers

Published: 

Craig, M., Dewar, M., Della Sala, S., Wolbers, T., (2015) Rest Boosts the Long-term Retention of Spatial Associative and Temporal Order Information. Hippocampus.

Craig, M., Dewar, M., Della Sala, S., (2015) Retroactive Interference, (2015) In: International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences (2nd Edition), Vol. 20, pp 613-620. Oxford: Elsevier.

Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., (2014) Autobiographical Thinking Interferes with Episodic Memory Consolidation. PLOS ONE 9(4): e93915. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093915

Craig, M., Dewar, M., Harris, M., Della Sala, S., Wolbers, T. (in press). Wakeful Rest Promotes the Integration of Spatial Memories into Accurate Cognitive Maps. Hippocampus.

In preparation:

Craig, M., Dewar, M., Harris, M., Hauff, P., Della Sala, S., Wolbers, T. Wakeful Rest Promotes the Accuracy of Cognitive Maps in Young and Older Adults.

Craig, M., Dewar, M., Gaskell, M. G. Comparison of the Effects of Sleep and Wakeful Rest on Memory Consolidation.

Presentations at scientific conferences (* denotes oral presentation) 

Craig, M., Dewar, M., Hauff, P., Harris, M., Hauff, P., Della Sala, S., Wolbers, T., Wakeful rest promotes cognitive map accuracy in young and older adults, Psychonomics Governing Board Meeting, Edinburgh (UK), July 2015.

Craig, M., Dewar, M., Hauff, P., Harris, M., Hauff, P., Della Sala, S., Wolbers, T., Wakeful rest promotes cognitive map accuracy in young and older adults, Alzheimer's Research UK - Scotland Research Network Meeting, Edinburgh (UK), April 2015.

Craig, M., Dewar, M., Hauff, P., Harris, M., Hauff, P., Della Sala, S., Wolbers, T., Wakeful rest promotes cognitive map accuracy in young and older adults, British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience, Edinburgh (UK), April 2015.

*Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Autobiographical thinking interferes with episodic memory consolidation, International Workshop on Learning and Memory Consolidation, San Sebastian (Spain), July 2014. 

Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Autobiographical thinking interferes with episodic memory consolidation, Comparative Perspectives on Autobiographical Memory: What Human and Non-human Animals Remember about Their Past, Aarhus (Denmark), June 2014.

*Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Autobiographical thinking Interferes with episodic memory consolidation, Experimental Psychology Society meeting, Kent (UK), April 2014.

Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Recalling the past and imagining the future interfere with verbal memory consolidation, Federation of European Societies of Neuropsychology meeting, Berlin (Germany), September 2013.

Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Recalling the past and imagining the future interfere with verbal memory consolidation, Experimental Psychology Society meeting, Lancaster (UK), July 2013.

Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Recalling the past and imagining the future interfere with verbal memory consolidation, British Neuropsychological Society meeting, London (UK), November 2012.

Presentations at other scientific events (* denotes oral presentation)

*Craig, M., Dewar, M., Harris, M., Hauff, P., Della Sala, S., Wolbers, T., Does Wakeful Rest Promote the Formation of Cognitive Maps? Psychology Seminar Series, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh (UK), April 2015

*Craig, M., Dewar, M., Harris, M., Hauff, P., Della Sala, S., Wolbers, T., Does Wakeful Rest Promote the Formation of Cognitive Maps? Human Cognitive Neuroscience Seminar Series, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh (UK), March 2015

*Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Recalling the past and imagining the future interfere with verbal memory consolidation, Human Cognitive Neuroscience Seminar Series, University of Edinburgh (UK), November 2012

*Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Recalling the past and imagining the future interfere with verbal memory consolidation, York University (UK), October 2012

Oral presentations to lay audiences

*Craig, M. (2014) A minimal interference technique to enhance memory in Alzheimer's disease, Alzheimer'' Society Public Research Talk, St. James Park, Newcastle upon Tyne (UK).

*Craig, M., A minimal interference technique to improve memory in people with Alzheimer's, Alzheimer's Society Research Conference, Nottingham (UK), July 2014

Craig, M., Dewar, M., Della Sala, S., Wolbers, T., Rest to find your way: Can a few minutes of rest boost memory for a recently travelled route? Alzheimer's Society Research Conference, Nottingham (UK), July 2014.

Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Post-learning wakeful rest aids the retention of a new route through a virtual environment, Alzheimer's Society Research Conference, London (UK), July 2013.

Craig, M., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Recalling the past and imagining the future interfere with verbal memory consolidation, Alzheimer's Society Research Conference, Leeds (UK), October 2012.

Other forms of dissemination

Craig, M. (2014) Autobiographical thinking interferes with episodic memory consolidation, Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group (PsyPAG) The Quarterly magazine.