07:40am Monday 21 October 2019

Re-learning words lost to dementia

This ability to relearn vocabulary indicates that even in brains affected by dementia, some recovery of function is possible.

The study, led by Ms Sharon Savage at NeuRA (Neuroscience Research Australia), utilised a simple computer training-program that paired images of household objects such as food, appliances, utensils, tools and clothing, with their names

“People with this type of dementia lose semantic memory, the memory system we use to store and remember words and their meanings,” says Ms Savage.

“Even the simplest words around the house can be difficult to recall. For example, a person with this type of dementia usually knows what a kettle does, but they may not know what to call it and may not recognize the word ‘kettle’ when they hear it,” she says.

Ms Savage found that after just 3 weeks of training for 30–60 min each day, patients’ ability to recall the name of the items improved, even for patients with more advanced forms of the dementia.

“Semantic dementia is a younger-onset dementia and because sufferers lose everyday words life can be very frustrating for them and their families. By relearning some of these everyday words, day to day conversations around the house may become less frustrating, improving patient well-being,” Ms Savage concludes.
This paper is published in the journal Cortex (paper attached).

Available for interviews and commentary:

·      Sharon Savage – Clinical Neuropsychologist, NeuRA

·      Mrs Helen James – Cares for husband suffering from semantic dementia

Contact Ben Bravery at the NeuRA Media Office on +61 406 599 569 or b.bravery@neura.edu.au for more information, a copy of the paper or to schedule an interview with Ms Savage or Mrs James.


How was this study done?

1.   People with semantic dementia lose semantic memory (‘What is a carrot?’), in contrast, people with Alzheimer’s disease lose episodic memory (‘What did I do yesterday?’)

2.   Four patients with mild to severe semantic dementia were intensively studied.

3.   A word-training program was developed based on images of everyday objects identified as important to the patient. Up to one hour of training using this list was done every day for 3 weeks.

4.   Patients were monitored before the training, during the training and followed-up 4 and 8 weeks after training.

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