Novel auditory diagnostic for semantic memory impairments in dementia of Alzheimer’s type (AD)

2016  -  Oxford, England, UK


University of Toronto; University of Oxford

Project description

Despite the fact that Alzheimer’s-related decline is largely in the area of auditory cognition and communication, the vast majority of research in the field is done with visual paradigms, which do not necessarily capture the specific pattern of deficits associated with the disease. The current project will test a novel auditory diagnostic paradigm, which examines memory-guided attention and attention-to-memory, two crucial processes involved in communication and listening situations, which appear impaired in Alzheimer’s. The paradigm can be administered in-home, on a personal computer, making it accessible to Alzheimer’s patients in the future. Based on previous findings, which have shown auditory tests may be much more sensitive than visual ones in differentiating individuals with Alzheimer’s from healthy controls, we propose that the current auditory cognitive paradigm will offer a potential alternative for testing and eventual diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. We will record neuroelectric activity (with electroencephalography) during the task in order to further identify the neural mechanisms underlying Alzheimer-related deficits. The project will be conducted at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and the Oxford Clinic for Cognitive Disorders, in collaboration with top-tier researchers and neurologists specializing in auditory cognitive processing in neurodegenerative disease.

Relevance to the acceleration of therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases of aging

The project’s aim is to elucidate auditory cognition in neurodegenerative disease, and provide a thoroughly tested computerized task that can be used to assess Alzheimer’s-related cognitive decline with auditory methods. Essentially, the goals are to 1) provide a sensitive screening tool to identify Alzheimer’s in early stages in order to facilitate early intervention, 2) directly improve lives of individuals with Alzheimer’s by informing clinicians about the specific pattern of auditory cognitive impairment, and 3) initiate development of training programs targeting auditory processing in Alzheimer’s.

Anticipated outcome

We will identify the specific levels of impairment in a) memory-guided attention and b) attention-to-memory in Alzheimer’s, both on a behavioural (i.e., response speed and accuracy) and neural level (i.e., associated neural responses, particularly in the auditory cortex and surrounding regions). The project will test the effectiveness of the paradigm in assessing these impairments. The task will provide a screening tool that is accessible on a personal computer and can be used in-home, with the hope to increase the proportion of early detection cases, therefore allowing for interventions to be administered earlier in AD progression. We aim to lay the foundation for using auditory paradigms that will assess auditory-related Alzheimer’s symptoms more directly and more efficiently than current methods that are largely focused on the visual modality.