December 4, 2023

By Alice Stanton

graphic of jigsaw puzzle pieces coming out the top of a head

September was World Alzheimer’s Month, a global occasion run by Alzheimer’s Illness Worldwide to unfold consciousness and problem the stigmas that encompass Alzheimer’s and different types of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative neurological situation that’s presently affecting greater than 944,000 individuals within the UK and Alzheimer’s illness accounts for 60-70% of those circumstances. Alzheimer’s is progressive and, presently, irreversible with therapy restricted to assuaging the signs and delaying the development of the illness. But it surely isn’t all doom and gloom! Analysis is presently being achieved on the College of Sussex on the detection of preclinical dementia or dementia that presents neurologically earlier than any cognitive signs are displayed. Though dementia is mostly detected in individuals over the age of 65, I’ll quickly be beginning work on a PhD undertaking that’s motivated by analysis that has urged that onset typically begins lengthy earlier than detection and analysis! A preclinical analysis may result in higher and nearer monitoring of the illness’s development which may give sufferers and their family members extra time to make decisions concerning the future. In addition to giving individuals extra time to make decisions, preventative motion to sluggish the development of dementia will be taken. I hope that my very own analysis may also help to make preclinical analysis extra extensively out there. Earlier this 12 months, I used to be accepted for the PhD undertaking: Flower, flora, fauna run by Dr Claire Lancaster, Professor Naji Tabet and Professor Jennifer Rusted. The undertaking asks whether or not novel metrics of verbal fluency efficiency may also help to detect people prone to future cognitive decline.

I come to the undertaking from a background in linguistics and whereas earlier analysis has established that there are hyperlinks between impairment in linguistic processes and dementia, the PhD I might be engaged on will look particularly at whether or not patterns of phrases produced on a verbal fluency activity can establish people susceptible to future cognitive decline. A verbal fluency activity is, mostly, a activity during which individuals are requested to provide phrases that both relate to a class (i.e., Animals – horse, cow, cat, canine) or begin with the identical letter (i.e., spoon, seat, couch, signal) for 60 seconds. By measuring not solely what number of distinctive phrases a participant can relay within the given time but additionally the time taken to change between broad clusters (i.e., animals to furnishings), and inside clusters (i.e., livestock to pets), in addition to the period of time between phrases and the size of the phonemes on the finish of phrases, we are able to hope to discover a hyperlink between language manufacturing on verbal fluency duties and sufferers susceptible to future cognitive decline. The undertaking is funded by a studentship which is 50% funded by the NHS SPFT and I’m extraordinarily excited to work in clinics throughout East Sussex with sufferers proper on the level the place they search medical steerage. As soon as the info is collected, computational instruments will assist in the measurement and evaluation of the verbal fluency exams together with measurements corresponding to counting cluster switches (the switches between clusters of phrases i.e., from livestock to pets), cluster sizes (the variety of phrases in every cluster), incorrect responses (phrases that don’t relate to the class given or have the proper first letter), and phrase frequencies (the variety of instances a single phrase is used). Utilizing this interdisciplinary model I hope that my grounding in linguistics, data of pure language processing and keenness for locating a way to detect these susceptible to future cognitive decline will assist to assist analysis and prognosis in real-world well being settings. 

That is my first week on the College and I’m presently penning this from the library on campus! I’ve been to all of my grasp’s introductions in addition to some PhD pupil introduction occasions and, though the journey forward is an extended one, I’m so grateful to be taking place the street with some sensible and supportive individuals. I’m wanting ahead to seeing what we are able to all obtain collectively to assist pre-empt a dementia analysis and assist not solely the individuals affected by Alzheimer’s but additionally the household and mates of sufferers to make analysis a much less scary prospect. 

Alice Stanton is finding out the MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at Sussex and is working alongside Dr Claire Lancaster, Professor Naji Tabet and Professor Jennifer Rusted on the PhD undertaking, Flower, flora, fauna.