Student Research Project

A research paper into the early detection of dementia, co-authored by a recent graduate and supported by a Trinity academic grant, has been published.

The paper, completed while Dr Alexandre Breton was a graduate student at Trinity, looks into the best psychological test for diagnosing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). This is a sort of pre-dementia where people feel more forgetful than usual, but are able to live independently and do not meet criteria for dementia. Not everyone with mild cognitive impairment gets dementia, but those with mild cognitive impairment are at an increased risk of developing dementia. Because mild cognitive impairment and dementia are basically a continuum (it can sometimes be difficult to draw a line between the two conditions) the research team believes that tests which are more accurate for MCI diagnosis may well be more accurate for dementia as well.

The research is a systematic review of all studies where the accuracy of a diagnostic test has been compared to a ‘gold standard’ diagnosis of MCI made by psychiatrists. For many tests this was then combined using a statistical analysis (meta-analysis) allowing us to combine several studies into a larger study which provided more information.

The conclusions of the paper are that short cognitive tests involving detailed examination of short term memory (e.g. the patient is asked to remember a sentence or list of words, then three minutes later is asked to repeat it back) are just as effective, or more effective, than longer tests involving a broader range of tasks. This fits in with a large body of literature suggesting that short term memory is one of the first things to be lost early in dementia (‘where did I leave my keys’ – ‘what was the name of the film I saw yesterday’ – etc).

Owing to the very large amount of literature that the team had to trawl through (over 9500 primary papers, of which only 66 were actually relevant and meeting all the inclusion criteria) the use of a reference management software was imperative, and Trinity provided the funds that enabled Alexandre to purchase the software.

Published: 3 December 2018

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