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2023 Alzheimer's Association Research Grant (AARG)

A Novel Item-Level Category Fluency Scoring to Detect AD at the MCI Stage

How does a loss of memory for words and facts promote Alzheimer’s in at risk individuals ?

Matteo De Marco, Ph.D.
Brunel University
Uxbridge, United Kingdom


Research shows  brain changes linked to Alzheimer’s may occur decades before memory loss and other clinical symptoms become evident. Individuals at risk of Alzheimer’s often have mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a state of more subtle memory loss, before developing dementia. However, not all individuals with MCI go on to develop Alzheimer’s, and scientists are looking for ways to detect which individuals with MCI are at greater dementia risk.

Recent studies suggest that some individuals with MCI experience declines in “semantic memory,” which includes memory for facts, words and general knowledge. But it is not yet clear if declines in semantic memory indicate whether an individual with MCI might develop (or “convert” to) Alzheimer’s.

Research Plan

Dr. Matteo De Marco and colleagues will study semantic memory and Alzheimer’s risk by analyzing  cognitive and brain scan data taken over a ten-year period from about 1,000 older individuals with MCI at a memory clinic in Sheffield, United Kingdom. Some of these individuals have converted to Alzheimer’s, while others have not. Dr. De Marco and team will examine how the older adults answered specific questions related to semantic memory. Such “category fluency” questions will involve recalling the names of items in two categories: animals and fruits. The researchers will then use cutting-edge statistical methods to “score” these test results, and assess how differences in semantic memory scores may be linked to dementia risk in individuals with MCI.  


Results from this project could refine our understanding of semantic memory loss in the progression of Alzheimer’s. They could also lead to future studies that examine associations between semantic memory and various dementia-related brain changes, such as tau and beta-amyloid protein clumping, two hallmark brain changes in Alzheimer’s. Ultimately, Dr. De Marco’s work could provide the basis for novel methods of diagnosing dementia risk.  

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