Investigators Look for Language Changes that Could Help Detect Alzheimer’s Disease

Karene Booker

Alzheimers is a devastating disease, the more so because the onset can be confusing and difficult to detect.

Barbara Lust, professor of Human Development at Cornell University, and her colleagues want to discover and define changes in language function that occur in early and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in order to contrast these changes with those that may occur normally with aging.

With a grant from the Institute for the Social Sciences, and seed grant funding from both CITRA (Cornell Institute for Translational Research) and  BLCC (Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center), the interdisciplinary team will complete collection and analysis of pilot data and share their initial findings. In addition to Barbara Lust, the team includes Janet Sherman, Massachusetts General Hospital; Suzanne Flynn, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Alexander Immerman, Cornell Language Acquisition Lab. For the study, the researchers will administer a set of language and thought tasks to participants and look for differences among three groups: a healthy aging group, a group of patients with early Alzheimers’ Disease, and a group of young adults, 20-29 years old. In addition, a study of the role of bilingualism will be initiated.

Results from the cognitive and linguistic tasks will be correlated to data from a detailed background questionnaire, designed to gather information about potential mediating social and personal factors. This will allow them test a wealth of hypotheses regarding the development and impairment of language and thought in normal aging and clinical AD.

If they find changes in language function in early and preclinical AD, it may facilitate the development of sensitive preclinical diagnostic tools that could aid in early detection of AD and assessment of its progress. In doing so, this project aims to contribute to the  development of appropriate clinical and social interventions.

Human Development Outreach & Extension