Alzheimer’s disease takes away the memories we have of our lives, robbing the brain’s ability to hold on to them. There’s no cure yet. But it’s possible that, with early diagnosis and treatment, memory loss might be slowed.
Dr. Jamie Reilly, director of the Concepts and Cognition Laboratory and associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Temple University College of Public Health, has long held that treatment to help people maintain words and concepts they consider important, before dementia erases them, is a more promising approach than trying to restore already-forgotten words.
Dr. Reilly recently received a second five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to extend a study that he has been conducting since 2014. The core of the study, working directly with dementia patients, is identifying 100 words that are important to participating patients and seeing whether training on that lexicon helps them keep those words for as long as possible.
Patients train on naming the items in a memory book and generating semantic features about them. The treatment is caregiver-friendly. Once the memory books have been made, loved ones or other caregivers can run through the exercises with patients. Researchers perform cognitive testing and neuroimaging throughout the process to determine retention of words and their meaning and explore any connections to cerebral changes. Testing on “untrained” words helps researchers judge whether the trained words are remembered better.
“We have just submitted some of the results of our first wing, and it does appear to work,” Dr. Reilly says. “People retain trained words but lose words that they haven’t trained on.”Friday Letter Submission, Publish on September 06