Detecting subtle but clinically significant cognitive change in an ageing population

Loughborough University

School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Project Description

A major challenge facing dementia research is identifying the earliest indicators of clinically-significant cognitive decline. This research project will be linked to the newly established Memory Assessment & Cognitive Ageing Research Unit (MACARU), led by the primary supervisor. This provides the opportunity to follow the cognitive and other functional changes in a large sample of older adults over time. Performance will be linked to key lifestyle and health indicators to explore potential at-risk subgroups. While it is clearly established that cognition and memory decline with age, it remains unclear which patterns of deterioration are indicative of a dementia trajectory, and which are not. The project will therefore investigate this and seek to establish early markers of clinically significant functional decline in healthy older adults by combining measures of memory and cognition, eye tracking, and brain function and integrity. Our highly sensitive methods of memory/cognitive assessment will be optimized for an older population and for online use either from the participant’s own home or from clinical centres. We have pioneered the use of eye-tracking methodology in memory research, establishing that pupil response and eye gaze metrics reflect subtle differences in memory performance in healthy adults. Therefore, one future focus of this research will be to explore this as a potential neurocognitive marker of clinically-significant memory decline. Our third major focus is on neuroimaging and its use in understanding memory function and dysfunction. With our MR-compatible eye-tracker, we will combine pupil and eye movement, brain function and integrity and cognition and memory indices in subgroups of our ageing cohort. Identifying biomarkers of very early dementia, characterizing at-risk groups, and exploring the complexity of declines memory and cognition in an ageing population will have significant impact for older people with and without dementia, for research into prevention and treatment, and for future policy-making.

Funding Information

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 3 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website.

Eligibility Requirements

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area / subject. Candidates with experience in neuroscience, psychology, digital programming, or MR imaging and with an interest in the ageing brain are encouraged to apply.

Application Process

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website. Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. On the online application form select the appropriate subject title.

For international students, we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences.

Supplementary Information

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website.

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website. Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. On the online application form select PhD Neuroscience.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. Further information.

References

Frank, D., Montemurro, MA., & Montaldi, D. (2020) Pattern separation underpins expectation-modulated memory. Journal of Neuroscience DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2047-19.2020

Stringer, G.; Couth, S.; Brown, L.; Montaldi, D.; et al. Can you detect early dementia from an email? A proof of principle study of daily computer use to detect cognitive and functional decline. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Vol. 33, No. 7, 07.2018, p. 867-874.

Kafkas, A., & Montaldi, D. (2018). Expectation affects learning and modulates memory experience at retrieval. Cognition;180:123‐134. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2018.07.010

Kafkas, A., & Montaldi, D. (2018). How do memory systems detect and respond to novelty? Neuroscience Letters, 680:60-68. doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2018.01.053

Kafkas, A., & Montaldi, D. (2015). The pupillary response discriminates between subjective and objective familiarity and novelty. Psychophysiology, 52(10), 1305-1316. doi.org/10.1111/psyp.12471

To apply for this PhD, please use the following application link: https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/research/apply/

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