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Neuropsychology Diagnostic Lab

Neuropsychology Diagnostic Lab

The problem of differential diagnosis of cognitive decline associated with normal aging, reversible dementias and Dementia of Alzheimer's Type (DAT) becomes a burgeoning issue for neuroscientists and clinicians due to a considerable increase in the proportion of the elderly population. Behavioral data alone do not provide sufficient information for early diagnosis of cognitive decline in the elderly. Evoked potentials, as physiological markers of neural processes, promise to be sensitive tools in differential diagnosis of DAT. However, they are not yet fully understood. The study conducted in Monterey Hall Neuropsychology Diagnostic Laboratory addresses age-related and disease-related changes in amplitude, latency, and topographical specificity of N200 and P300 evoked potentials and their relationship to cognitive, sensory, and social competence.

Psychology faculty and students in collaboration with UCLA researchers are working with patients who have memory and cognitive deficits suggestive of early stages of dementia. The patients as well as intact elderly (to provide for a comparison group) are subjected to a 5-component diagnostic workup, which includes recording of visual event-related brain potentials, a battery of neuropsychological tests, a test of olfaction, a measure of social cognition, and tests of actual ability to carry out their daily activities. The entire workup takes about seven hours and is spread over several days for each participant. The scheduling of testing sessions is flexible, considering the fragile condition of the participants. The EEG component of the diagnostic workup is equipment-intensive and involves use of the Neuroscan, a stimulus delivery and data acquisition system. Analysis of the data obtained to date provided some meaningful insights into the physiological markers of DAT and their relation to behavioral changes, which were presented at professional forums.

The goal of this project is to contribute to better understanding of neurocognitive mechanisms of DAT and other dementias, and to improve differential diagnosis of dementia. Early differentiation of DAT vs. normal aging and other conditions could provide a timely opportunity for therapeutic intervention in case of the treatable dementias (i.e. affective, metabolic, toxic, etc.). In addition, early identification of DAT will result in more effective behavioral and pharmacological intervention at a time when the patient is less functionally impaired, and will promote realistic appraisal of patient's behavior by significant others, which will have positive effect on the quality of life of patients and reduce caregiver burden.

This work is done in collaboration with the local chapter of Alzheimer's Association and with the CARE program of the Granada Hills Hospital. Clinical participants and their caregivers are provided with written feedback regarding their neuropsychological functioning, which they can keep for their medical records and/or share with their healthcare professionals. Information on participant's cognitive competence might be helpful in refining his/her diagnosis, in understanding the nature of his/her behavioral problems and in treatment planning.

Department of Psychology
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