The increased incidence of dementia is linked to societal ageing and represents one of the major challenges facing health science. The causes of dementia are multifactorial, yet dementia is generally characterised by advanced neuropathology. Interestingly, the degree of neuropathology does not necessarily correlate with the degree of cognitive decline. This mismatch suggests the existence of a ‘cognitive reserve’, whereby the brain employs compensatory mechanisms to maintain its original function under stressed conditions, such as ageing, dementia or drowsiness.
In this project, the student will: (a) collect behavioural and EEG data during an attentionally demanding task under drowsiness (a reversible cognitive strain), where high cognitive reserve will be operationalised as maintaining performance during drowsiness; (b) compare datasets between young adults and the elderly to further investigate the effect of age on cognitive reserve; (c) link and compare these individual differences in cognitive reserve with neuroanatomical metrics, based on the participant’s structural MRI.
Based on the generated data we aim to identify a biomarker of cognitive reserve – a particular pattern of neural activity, or neuroanatomy, that corresponds to enhanced cognitive performance under neural strain. Throughout the project, the student will receive intense training on using EEG equipment, will collect behavioural and EEG data from a vulnerable (elderly) population and young adults, analyse behavioural and EEG data in Matlab, and use voxel based morphometry (VBM) to link structural MRI features to behavioural measures of cognitive reserve.
Understanding the underlying neural mechanism of cognitive reserve may open an avenue for patient-specific pharmacological and behavioural therapies to slow the progress of cognitive decline.
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