Feb 26, 2012

Improving the Quality of Life of Alzheimer's Patients and Their Caregivers

“In Dr. Brandon Ally’s lab, he has chosen to focus not on what is lost, but what Alzheimer’s patients still retain and how this information can be used to improve their quality of life.”

By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Since completing his NIH sponsored research fellowship at Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Brandon Ally has continued his work at Vanderbuilt University Medical Center.

Dr. Ally says, "My work has been to understand exactly how memory breaks down in healthy and diseased ageing.

Recent aims in the lab have focused on understanding which aspects of memory remain intact, so that potential interventions and strategies can be designed to help memory-disordered patients rely on these intact processes."

In response to a question about what Dr. Ally believes is his greatest research success to date, he responded,
“I think my greatest success comes in the form of a conceptual shift to determine what aspects of memory and cognition remain intact in patients with Alzheimer’s and amnestic mild cognitive impairment, rather than highlighting what goes wrong. When we find something that goes right, it gives us something to work with.
Dr. Ally works to find “more there”, and he is succeeding. His lab is, “identifying aspects of memory and cognition that remain intact in this population.” He says this is “of critical importance to the development of interventional strategies that could ease the burden on caregivers.

One particularly interesting result of Dr. Ally’s research was the discovery that
“the ability to remember pictures is actually greater in patients with Alzheimer’s disease than in healthy older adults. To investigate this finding, the researchers conducted word and picture recognition tests while healthy young and old adults, and patients diagnosed with aMCI and Alzheimer’s had the electrical activity of their brain recorded. To understand group differences in recognition, they examined the neural correlates of recollection and familiarity. Recollection is the term used to describe the ability to retrieve specific information, whereas familiarity is simply defined as a general sense of previous exposure to an item or event. The results showed that the healthy adults, regardless of age, used recollection . . . In contrast, results from patients with aMCI and Alzheimer’s showed a decreased ability to use recollection for both images and words, but an increased ability to utilize familiarity to support picture recognition.”
Dr. Ally observes, “The simple explanation is that memory for words deteriorates more rapidly than picture memory.”

Dr. Ally has recently received a five year research grant from the NIA to “study the differences in visual and verbal memory break down in mild forms of dementia.” He wants to apply the knowledge he acquires, “immediately in the clinical setting, by being used to treat and improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s and aMCI.”

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Max Wallack - His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

Original content Max Wallack, the Alzheimer's Reading Room