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Alzheimer's Disease

Cognitive training using chunking in Alzheimer's disease

Summary

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating illness characterised by memory impairment. Working memory refers to the ability to remember information over short periods of time and is affected early in the disease. We are investigating whether the use of strategies such as chunking may improve working memory in Alzheimer’s disease. Chunking refers to the ability to group information together into ‘chunks’ to improve memory capacity.

We are conducting a simple six week memory training program using chunking to assess whether this form of training can improve memory function, and result in associated changes in brain activity.

Why carry out the research?

Despite the wide range of books and games available that claim to 'train your brain' it is still unclear whether simple training in the use of memory strategies can help people suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.

In a pilot study we found that individuals at the very early stage of Alzheimer’s disease are able to use chunking strategies to improve their working memory. We therefore intend to teach patients with early Alzheimer’s disease chunking strategies. We will assess whether this significantly improves their working memory and will use brain imaging to investigate underlying changes in brain activity associated with training in chunking. 

Using cognitive training in chunking may offer an important therapeutic approach to preserving memory in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

How is the research being undertaken?

The study has three main components:-

Firstly, we are asking volunteers to complete a series of questionnaires and memory tests that look at their memory and abilities to do everyday tasks.  

Secondly, we will be asking volunteers to 'train' their memory three times a week for six weeks.  The training consists of a researcher helping volunteers to practice memory tasks using a computer in their homes for an hour on each occasion.

Finally, we are asking volunteers to have two brain scans, one at the beginning and one at the end of the study to look at how memory training affects brain activity.

Where is it happening?

The study is based at the Institute of Psychiatry, London. All training sessions will be done in volunteers homes, and the brain scans will take place at the Centre for neuroimaging sciences at the Institute of Psychiatry.

Who is involved?

The research is sponsored by the Medical Research Council and the study has been designed by researchers based at the Institute of Psychiatry (Dr Jonathan Huntley and Professor Robert Howard), the University of Sussex (Dr Daniel Bor) and at the University of Western Ontario, Canada (Professor Adrian Owen and Dr Adam Hampshire).

What is the timescale?

The project is due to finish in 2014.

To find out more

Please contact:-

Dr Jonathan Huntley
+44 (0)20 7848 0508
jonathan.huntley@kcl.ac.uk

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