Cognitive aging is becoming a topic of great interest and concern to science, medicine and public health, as the proportion of individuals over age 65 in the US continues to grow. The neuropsychology of aging and dementia is the primary focus of work in my laboratory. We examine visual attention, memory and language, as they are affected by aging and by age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Collaborations with colleagues in the Northwestern Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center (CNADC), in the Human Cognitive Brain Mapping Group, in the Sleep and Circadian Rhythms program, in the Cognitive Neuroscience program, and in the Aphasia Research Laboratory focus on the following projects:
1. Alzheimer's and other forms of neurodegenerative brain disease have specific affinities for distinct cortical regions. The very earliest symptoms of a dementia reflect the large-scale neuroanatomic network affected by disease. The symptoms, however, are less directly related to the nature of the underlying neuropathology of the disease. What are the factors that promote pathology in cognitive-specific neuroanatomical networks, such as the limbic regions for Alzheimer's disease, the left perisylvian region for primary progressive aphasia and the frontal cortex for frontotemporal dementia? Multidisciplinary studies (neuropsychologic, neuroimaging, neurolinguistic, neuropathologic, genetic) are ongoing to address these questions. My current studies are investigating memory and other non language cognitive functions in patients with PPA.
2. Identifying early signs of cognitive change that predict subsequent development of dementia. As part of our NIA-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center, we follow older individuals who are cognitively healthy, those with mild impairments that may increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and individuals with different forms of dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal lobar degeneration. We also have a cohort of highly functioning older individuals, called “SuperAgers” who seem to have avoided the “typical”, age-related decline in cognition. Comparisons among these different groups with respect to cognitive performance, demographics, health factors and lifestyle factors provide information about what might be done to reduce risk of dementia and also to improve early diagnosis. A brain donation program allows us to search for clues to "successful brain aging". Collaborations with other NU researchers also allow us to study brain structural and functional changes associated with various cognitive aging trajectories. Other collaborations, such as those with our Sleep Disorders Program, have studied the relationship between sleep and memory consolidation in older individuals.
3. Future lab directions include identifying promoters of cognitive SuperAging and understanding the relationship between language and other cognitive functions using a model of neurodegenerative brain disease.