From research to clinic

Up to two thirds of people with dementia never receive a formal diagnosis.
Research by the Human Cognitive Ageing Group offers a simple screening test for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) that could be performed by GPs.

Patients in the early stage of AD have problems dealing with multiple sources of information, for example, tracking who said what in a conversation. This form of memory is called temporary binding.
“We discovered that temporary binding is greatly affected by Alzheimer’s disease, but is not affected by healthy ageing, chronic depression or by other types of dementia,” says Professor Sergio Della Sala.

Temporary binding is an important part of our ‘working memory’ system, which holds information for a few seconds, before updating it. This helps us reason, think, solve problems, navigate, hold conversations and generally interact with the world from moment to moment.

“A breakdown in this ability can undermine independent living” says Professor Robert Logie.

In the laboratory, volunteers had to keep track of both colour and shape, and say whether the next image matched the previous one or not (see figure below). This is a simple test that could be performed in a GP surgery. Importantly, the test was alsoable to identify carriers of an early onset Alzheimer’s gene (E280A), 10 years or more before the onset of symptoms. Such an early diagnostic test could give people more time to understand their condition, have access to drugs and to plan their future. It could also prove invaluable for future research efforts and recruitment to clinical trials.




Parra MA, Abrahams S, Logie RH, Méndez LG, Lopera F, Della Sala S. (2010), Visual short-term memory binding deficits in familial Alzheimer’s disease. Brain, Sep; 133(9):2702-13

Robert H. Logie, Mario A. Parra, and Sergio Della Sala (2015), From Cognitive Science to Dementia Assessment. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 2(1) 81–91

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