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Explaining behaviour in early dementia

14 February 2011

A recent study, conducted between the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s and the MIDAS project at Bangor University, has shown for the first time, that it’s possible to measure implicit knowledge that people with dementia have about their illness without conscious awareness of the condition.

Robin Morris, Professor of Neuropsychology at the IoP, said: ‘I have been struck by how much implicit knowledge people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have in the absence of explicit insight into their condition. In certain instances, for example, they will respond to disability by changing behaviour (for example, giving up driving) but simultaneously not being able to provide a rational explanation.’

To investigate this further, Robin Morris collaborated with Linda Clare and other researchers working on the MIDAS project, by using an adaptation of what is called the emotional Stroop task. This technique involves determining whether the manner in which people slow their reading of words due to the normal Stroop effect is exacerbated when they are associated with a particular emotional reaction (for example, people with spider phobias are slower to read words associated with spiders). The MIDAS project developed an AD version of the emotional Stroop task that included words to do with memory failure.

Seventy-nine people with early stage AD and their carers, completed an emotional Stroop task. Time taken to colour-name dementia-related and neutral words was compared within and between groups. Additionally, as a comparison, ratings of the awareness of the condition shown by people with dementia were made on the basis of a detailed interview with each person and his/her carer.

Dr Morris added: ‘People with dementia, including those with AD, slowed to the same extent as their carers and more so than non-carers. The effect was completely independent of variations in awareness of memory disorder. Researching further such implicit knowledge may help improve the care of people with dementia, also improving our understanding of the way people react to the experience of having dementia.’

‘Emotional Stroop effect for dementia-related words in people with dementia and their caregivers’ Martyr A, Clare L, Nelis S, Roberts JL, Robinson JU, Roth I, Markova IS, Woods RT, Whitaker CJ & Morris RG (2011) is published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry

To read the paper in full, please follow the link.

To read more about the MIDAS project, please follow the link.

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