September 23, 2023

By Alice Stanton

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

September was World Alzheimer’s Month, a world 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 at the moment affecting greater than 944,000 folks within the UK and Alzheimer’s illness accounts for 60-70{127d53c19de22b43d0d256110828a63c40b2cdcb3126cef767991918837c1423} of those instances. Alzheimer’s is progressive and, at the moment, irreversible with therapy restricted to assuaging the signs and delaying the development of the illness. Nevertheless it isn’t all doom and gloom! Analysis is at the moment being accomplished 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 folks over the age of 65, I’ll quickly be beginning work on a PhD venture that’s motivated by analysis that has advised that onset usually begins lengthy earlier than detection and analysis! A preclinical analysis might result in higher and nearer monitoring of the illness’s development which might give sufferers and their family members extra time to make selections in regards to the future. In addition to giving folks extra time to make selections, preventative motion to sluggish the development of dementia could be taken. I hope that my very own analysis may also help to make preclinical analysis extra broadly out there. Earlier this yr, I used to be accepted for the PhD venture: Flower, flora, fauna run by Dr Claire Lancaster, Professor Naji Tabet and Professor Jennifer Rusted. The venture asks whether or not novel metrics of verbal fluency efficiency may also help to detect people susceptible to future cognitive decline.

I come to the venture 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 will likely be engaged on will look particularly at whether or not patterns of phrases produced on a verbal fluency process can determine people susceptible to future cognitive decline. A verbal fluency process is, mostly, a process wherein 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 modify between broad clusters (i.e., animals to furnishings), and inside clusters (i.e., cattle to pets), in addition to the period of time between phrases and the size of the phonemes on the finish of phrases, we will hope to discover a hyperlink between language manufacturing on verbal fluency duties and sufferers susceptible to future cognitive decline. The venture is funded by a studentship which is 50{127d53c19de22b43d0d256110828a63c40b2cdcb3126cef767991918837c1423} 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 information is collected, computational instruments will assist in the measurement and evaluation of the verbal fluency assessments together with measurements corresponding to counting cluster switches (the switches between clusters of phrases i.e., from cattle 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 right first letter), and phrase frequencies (the variety of occasions a single phrase is used). Utilizing this interdisciplinary type 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 help analysis and prognosis in real-world well being settings. 

That is my first week on the College and I’m at the moment 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 a protracted one, I’m so grateful to be taking place the street with some good and supportive folks. I’m trying ahead to seeing what we will all obtain collectively to assist pre-empt a dementia analysis and help not solely the folks affected by Alzheimer’s but additionally the household and buddies 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 venture, Flower, flora, fauna.