Dr Michael Craig

Project Title: Developing novel memory-related markers of healthy ageing and Alzheimer’s disease

The world’s population is ageing, and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is growing. Unfortunately, a cure for Alzheimer’s disease remains something of the future. However, we can develop new diagnostic markers that have the potential to detect Alzheimer’s disease in its earliest stages, when interventions can be most effective. In our project, we built on promising memory research findings from our Lab to pave the way for new memory-related markers of healthy ageing and Alzheimer’s disease.

In previous research, we found that severe forgetting in Alzheimer’s disease is related to an abnormal change in memory consolidation – the brain process that strengthens new memories so that we can remember them later. Specifically, this work showed that consolidation breaks down in Alzheimer’s disease and becomes very susceptible to interference, for example from being busy in the few minutes that follow learning. It is known that memory changes normally as we grow older, but it remained poorly understood whether/how consolidation changes in older age.

In the current project, we used a sensitive photo memory test in younger and older adults to investigate whether, as we grow older, consolidation (i) becomes more susceptible to interference and/or (ii) slows down. We found that, despite age-related declines in memory, consolidation interference susceptibility does not change in older age, which indicates that increased susceptibility is specific to Alzheimer’s disease. We also found evidence that consolidation slows down in older age, but not dramatically. Thus, older adults might benefit from longer periods of ‘interference-free’ activities, for example quietly resting, in the minutes after learning to help them hang on to new memories. Our findings provide new insights into how consolidation changes normally as we grow older and could have important implications for the development of new diagnostic tests that can differentiate between normal ageing and Alzheimer’s disease.

Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: Experimental Psychology

University: Heriot-Watt University

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