UGA psychology research may lead to earlier, better diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s
By JESSICA LUTON
New research from UGA’s department of psychology may one day lead to a better biomarker for earlier detection of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the leading predictor of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.
With nearly 36 million people estimated to have dementia currently, and that number expected to double every 20 years, finding and identifying dementia earlier shows promise for interventions in the future.
Psychology professor and Bio-Imaging Research Center director Stephen Miller, along with former graduate student Carlos Faraco, used fMRI brain scans—scans that give researchers not only a visual picture of the structure of the brain but also information about blood flow within the brain—to test the working memory of adults with normal healthy adult brains against those showing signs of mild cognitive impairment. The research was recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.
While researchers have looked at stored memory in dementia research, working memory is a relatively new area of research in the fMRI research realm.
Initial results from the fMRI study show hyperactivity in the lateral temporal lobes, the area of the brain associated with working memory. Hyperactivity here means that the brain is exerting more energy to complete a task, which may be a biomarker for developing dementia.
To test working memory, Miller and his research partners tested both older adults with MCI and older adults with normal functioning brains using a series of complex working memory tasks. They tasked participants with using working memory in two tasks—clicking on the correct color dot and remembering a sequence of letters—with one working memory task interrupting the next. At the end of the tasks, participants then had to recall information from those tasks.
Researchers then used scans to examine brain activity when participants were completing working memory tasks and at the end when participants were recalling information.
The findings could lead to better biomarkers for dementia, as other studies using fMRI scans testing stored memory are more difficult to read due to their placement next to sinus air passages that often makes imagery blurry.
The complete journal article is available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028393213002601