Current research

An insight in to the current research taking place at the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre.


Title: Dementia in the 1932 Scottish Mental Survey Cohort: is there evidence of geographical clustering?

Researcher: Dr Tom Russ


Health service planning assumes a uniform spread of dementia across the country. However there is evidence that young-onset dementia, at least, is not randomly distributed geographical clusters have been developed. This has not been investigated for the much more common late-onset dementia.

Evidence of clustering of dementia would allow more efficient use of scarce health service resources but also, potentially more importantly, could help identify socio-enviromental factors that increase or decrease the risk of developing dementia. This opens the possibility of altering that risk and potentially protecting someone, at least partially, from developing dementia.

I am attempting to identify which of the participants in the 1932 Scottish Mental Survey have developed dementia using record linkage to hospital discharge and death certificate data, in addition to accessing a sample of primary care records. Mapping the location of these individuals at birth, age 11 (when they took part in the Survey) and at diagnosis will allow the geographical spread of dementia cases in a narrow age cohort in Scotland to be investigated.


Title: Environmental risk factors for dementia

Researcher: Luisa Parkinson


I am researching how the environment we experience during our lives can affect our risk of developing dementia in later life. This might suggest ways to change our environment to reduce the risk of developing dementia for future generations. We know that where you live can affect your risk of developing dementia and that living in areas with high air pollution or with certain things in the drinking water can increase your risk of developing dementia. However, most of this work is based on the environment people are exposed to in later life. The environment we are exposed to changes throughout our lives either due to us moving or due to areas changing around us. The brain changes that progress to dementia start many years before the onset of signs of dementia.

I am interested in understanding when exposure to a poor environment has greatest effect on our risk of developing dementia. Does it have greatest effect from a certain period of life, such as childhood, mid-life, or later life, or are effects from across a whole life course important. I am currently focusing on two areas that are important to my research. The first is understanding how to combine environmental data with dementia data in a statistical model to give the maximum information about how the environmental factors are influencing dementia risk. The second is identifying older sources of environmental data to cover the childhood and mid-life periods for people who are now in their eighties (e.g. the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936) and where necessary working out how to convert this data from paper to digital format.


Title: A life course analysis of the neuroscience of socioeconomic status, PhD project

Researcher: Sahan Mendis


Telephone: 0131 650 4340

Recent empirical evidence suggests that an individual’s socioeconomic status and overall level of social deprivation may have a significant impact on cognitive outcomes in ageing and the size and function of neuroanatomical structures in older age. However, there is currently limited epidemiological evidence on the impact of socioeconomic status at various points in the life course on the bearing on the size and the rate of change of these neuroanatomical structures My research will investigate the relationship between both individual and area level indices of socioeconomic status at different points in the life course and the volume and rate of change of neuroimaging parameters in older age amongst participants of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936. The anticipated neuroimaging parameters explored in my PhD is likely to include volume of white matter hyperintensities, hippocampal volume and total brain volume. Additionally, I plan to conduct a systematic review which will identify and evaluate all epidemiological studies which investigated the relationship between life course indices of socioeconomic status and brain parameters associated with cognition in adulthood.


Completed Projects

Title: Exploring transitions from hospitals to care homes: the role of cognitive impairment

Researcher: Dr Jenni Harrison


Telephone: 0131 242 6371

Each year in Scotland around half of those who are newly admitted to a hospital come directly from a hospital setting. This is despite policy guidance across the UK arguing that care home admission from acute hospital settings be avoided. Despite this being an everyday occurrence in hospitals across the UK, our understanding of this area is extremely limited.

I have planned a series of six related projects to help explore this topic in greater depth, including: looking at predictors of care home admission from acute hospital settings worldwide in a systematic review; working to develop a search filter to identify care home research; using routinely collected health and social care data to explore practice in Scotland and more in-depth work focused on staff perspectives on this critically important issue. Wherever possible, the role of dementia and delirium will be specifically explored to better understand the influence of these conditions on care home admission from hospital.


Title: Visuospatial Perception and Motor Control in Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA), Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD) and related Neurodegenerative Diseases

Researcher: Harriet Ingle


One subtype of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA). One of the defining features of PCA is a younger age of onset than typical AD. PCA is a rare, progressive dementia and is associated with a number of other neurodegenerative pathologies such as Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, AD, and Lewy body dementia. PCA patients often display fewer memory deficits, better verbal fluency, and greater insight into their diagnosis than those diagnosed with typical AD. Everyday symptoms which PCA patients may have include difficulties in reading, writing, and using familiar objects, as well as trouble interpreting road signs, and getting lost on familiar routes. These symptoms can often be misinterpreted as having their origins in the eyes, rather than the brain.

The unique symptom profile of PCA and the unusually young age of onset mean that this subtype can often go undiagnosed for years at a time. There is some evidence suggesting that the clinical profile of typical AD and PCA may overlap in the latter stages of PCA disease progression, therefore PCA and AD may be part of the same disease process – or they may be clinically distinct syndromes.

The visual and co-ordination problems associated with PCA can be tested using a range of simple attention and movement tasks. However, very few quantitative studies have been conducted with PCA patients. Further research to more fully understand the deficits observed in PCA patients would be a valuable step towards more effective diagnosis and better-targeted therapeutic strategies for this relatively newly-recognized form of dementia. Detailed research into AD subtypes, including PCA, will also shed light on the question of whether AD is a spectrum of disease, with different subtypes appearing somewhere across a shared scale, or whether these subtypes are actually clinically different from each other. This would allow for sensitive and specific screening tools to be developed to identify the unique symptoms of these subtypes of AD early, and prevent misdiagnosis and therefore delays in treatment. These specific problems with vision and movement may exist on a greater scale in other related diseases, such as in typical AD. Therefore a formal investigation into the prevalence and severity of these symptoms across a range of related diagnoses will grant an insight into an as-yet understudied area.

The aims of this research are; to investigate the visual, movement, and attention deficits which are characteristic of PCA and other subtypes of AD such as Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD), Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), as well as typical AD using a range of visual, attention, and movement tests, both in the clinic and in the lab. This will help to identify whether PCA and other subtypes of AD represent part of a common spectrum of impairment with typical AD, or whether they are distinct syndromes. This will allow the development of a sensitive and specific screening tool to be used in clinics to detect the earliest stages of symptom development for these rare diagnoses.


Title: Validation of the Dimensional Apathy Scale and exploration of apathy subtypes in dementia

Reseacher: Dr Ratko Radakovic


Apathy is a debilitating behaviour observed in dementia and is characterised by reduced motivation relating to goal direct behaviour. Apathy is often regarded and assessed as a singular concept despite research showing it to have a multidimensional substructure related to motivational deficits of organizational, emotional and initiation behaviour. My research looks to validate and implement a novel apathy measure, the Dimensional Apathy Scale, which quantifies different apathetic subtype impairments independent of motor disability. Following the validation of the Dimensional Apathy Scale, the profile of apathy and its impact in dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease, will be explored. The overarching aim of this research is to establish this new measure in a clinical setting, encouraging more comprehensive assessment of such a complex syndrome.