Gemma Fernández Rubio from the University of Aarhus, Denmark was in 2023 awarded a grant for the project: Puzzling out the neurophysiology of auditory memory and intelligence in dementia.
Dementia is a widespread neurodegenerative disease that severely affects cognitive functioning and poses considerable challenges to both patients and caregivers. By 2050, the number of patients with dementia is estimated to be 150 million worldwide, emphasizing the urgency of novel research on its prevention, early detection, and treatment. Studies on the neurophysiology of dementia have long focused on investigating the underlying brain mechanisms of the disease during resting state and largely neglected examining its neural features during cognitive tasks indexing intelligence and memory. However, the neural bases of auditory memory and intelligence can provide the new pieces of the neurophysiology puzzle of dementia and aid in its early detection and treatment.
Previously, Rubio has examined the neurophysiology of auditory memory recognition and discovered that this activates a widespread brain network that includes both auditory and memory regions in both hemispheres of the brain. Furthermore, she found that this activation pattern is closely linked to intelligence: young adults with high working memory capacity (a measure of executive functioning and intelligence) recruit a larger brain network including areas associated with visual processing for successful recognition of musical sequences. In healthy aging, older adults exhibit reduced auditory mismatch negativity amplitude (a measure of automatic memory) at frontal-central brain regions compared to young adults and this correlates with behavioral performance in declarative memory. More recently, she explored the influence of music training on auditory memory and intelligence in healthy aging and found that overall young adults outperform older adults in measures of auditory short- and long-term memory.
Following this line of studies with healthy young and older adults, the aim of this project is to move this research into the clinical arena and investigate the neurophysiological features of dementia. Neurophysiological and behavioral data will be collected at Aarhus University Hospital from a sample of healthy older (>60 years old) adults and age-matched adults with dementia. Participants will undergo an experimental session where they will perform auditory memory (mismatch negativity, auditory memory recognition) and intelligence (working memory) tests while their brain activity is recorded using magnetoencephalography (MEG), a brief structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning, and a behavioral session to test cognitive functioning, intelligence, and music training levels. Using a novel approach that combines cognitive behavioral measures with MEG and structural MRI recordings, this will be the first study to define the complex and fast-scale brain mechanisms that characterize the transition from healthy aging to dementia in relation to auditory memory and intelligence.