It’s Dementia Action Week. Reading researchers are tackling the problem of dementia on all fronts, from investigating its causes to how we can improve care and quality of life for those it affects. Today we speak to Professor Arlene Astell, who uses sound and video to trigger long-term memories in people with dementia and get them talking again.
“People with dementia often withdraw from social interactions, lose confidence and feel embarrassed about their condition – their world shrinks. We want to find ways to stimulate their mind and memories and improve their quality of life,” explains Arlene Astell, who is Professor of Neurocognitive Disorders in Reading’s School of Psychology and Language Sciences.
“One of the questions we’re asking in our research is ‘What makes life more enjoyable for people with dementia – what are the activities and pastimes they can do that give them the same pleasure and satisfaction that they had before?’”
Arlene and colleagues are doing this through the use of technology. Working with the BBC to use their sound and TV archive they have developed touch-screen software, called the Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid (CIRCA). The software uses audio and video clips of evocative sounds, music and images from the past – such the whine of an electric milk float, a picture of a 1950s street scene or a recording of Winston Churchill speaking on the radio.
Dementia is a name for a group of diseases which cause reduced brain function. Dr Francesco Tamagnini and Dr Patrick Lewis will introduce two types of dementia: Prion disease and Alzheimer’s disease. This is an excellent event for anyone who wants to learn something new about dementia and hear about the research on it that scientists are doing at the University of Reading. Suitable for all audiences – no science knowledge needed.
To see the full details of the event or to book tickets, clickhere.
This event takes place at the Three Guineas in a self-contained cellar bar, with a separate entrance from the main bar.
50 million people around the world are living with dementia and that figure is set to reach 152 million by 2050. Ahead of tonight’s public lecture, neuroscientist Dr Mark Dallas tells us how understanding ‘brain glue’ could hold the secret to detecting dementia decades before the first symptoms appear.
Our brains are made up of 170 billion cells – that’s 24 times the population of planet Earth. We now know that there is roughly a 50:50 split of nerve cells to other cells. These other cells are collectively termed glia after the Greek word for glue, because they were once thought of as the glue that helped to hold the nerve cells together.
Dr Mark Dallas will explain the research at his ‘Brain Glue’ public lecture on Wednesday night (28 Feb)
Scientists now know that these cells are in fact key players in brain function, maintaining a healthy environment for the nerves cells to communicate with each other.
Of interest to dementia scientists is that fact that these cells may be first responders to signs of damage. Why does this matter? It matters because it is about this point in time that scientists believe an individual living with Alzheimer’s disease today would start experiencing subtle, almost undetectable changes in their brains.
Therefore, if we know more about these cells and what they do, we may be able to detect dementia some 20 years before current diagnosis.
Nearly a million people in the UK today are living with dementia. Currently there is no treatment that will prevent, cure or slow down its progression. To overcome this scientists are now studying not only nerve cells in the brain, but the so-called glial cells – previously thought to be just the ‘glue’ that sticks other brain cells together. Evidence suggests that these cells could provide insight and even early warning about the onset of disease, years before clinical symptoms develop.
The human brain is the most complex computer we have, yet we are still discovering the basics of how it works. This lecture will outline some of the challenges in finding treatments for brain diseases, and explore the potential of glial cells in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr Mark Dallas is a Lecturer in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience at the School of Pharmacy, University of Reading. He is the Academic Co-Ordinator for the Alzheimer’s Research UK Oxford Network, Neuroscience Theme Lead for the Physiological Society and sits on the editorial board of Physiology News.
By Dr Mark Dallas, Lecturer in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, University of Reading
Our hope as dementia scientists is that these cells could unlock a new avenue of treatments that alters the course of Alzheimer’s disease
The human brain is a complex structure made up of different types of cells. You have probably heard scientists talk about nerve cells or brain cells. These are the cells that are lost in Alzheimer’s disease.
However, there are a similar number of other cell types within the brain, called glial cells. ‘Glial’ comes from the Greek word for glue, as these cells were originally believed to hold the nerve cells together. It is now clear that these cells are highly specialised and vital for brain function.
So what are these cells, and how could they help us find treatments for Alzheimer’s?