Can we help dementia patients remember?

VELUX FONDEN has granted DKK 6,687,123 to “MemoScience: Centre for the rehabilitation of autobiographical memory in dementia patients”, the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS. The grant will be spent on research into whether it is possible to recover some of the memory of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

2017.01.25 | Tine Bagger Christiansen

The Old Town (Den Gamle By). Photo: Colourbox

People with Alzheimer’s disease have difficulties remembering the life they have lived. That type of memory is called autobiographical memory, and it is crucial to your identity and ability to cope with everyday life, both with respect to practical matters, but also in social relations.

“An increased life expectancy has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of persons diagnosed with dementia. There is no medical treatment that can cure e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, which is why it is very important to find new social and psychological forms of intervention which can improve the level of function and quality of life of those affected”, says Professor Dorthe Berntsen from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Aarhus BSS.

The new centre aims to determine if you can recover parts of the lost ability to remember, perceive the world, think and engage in problem-solving thereby increasing the well-being of people with dementia by stimulating their memory.

The studies will be based on two principles

1.       The studies will be based on research showing that the deterioration which occurs when you get Alzheimer’s spares a person’s earliest memories for some time, i.e. memories from the person’s childhood and youth.

2.       Secondly, social and spontaneous forms of memory, so-called involuntary memory forms, may continue to function for an extended period of time. The latter is based on new research, which shows that involuntary memories can occur on their own if a person is given concrete and relevant clues.

The research programme consist of two parts

1.       A study of whether it is possible to improve the memory and function level of persons with Alzheimer’s disease through repeated visits to the “House of Memories” in the museum The Old Town - an apartment where everything is arranged as in the participants’ childhood and youth (the 1950s), and where the best preserved memories can therefore be spontaneously (involuntarily) brought to life via sensory impressions, objects, photos, music and the environment as a whole.  Specifically, the researchers explore if people show greater initiative, more communication and emotional commitment when they find themselves in this context compared to a modern environment without clues to their earliest memories.

2.       The second part of the research programme focuses on developing and identifying the best methods for rehabilitating autobiographical memory that can be used outside a museum environment in private homes and care centres.

The results may lead to new ways to care for people with Alzheimer’s, something they can use in their daily lives, and which may directly impact the design of care environments: How can these be designed so that they increase the users’ ability to remember the life they have lived and thereby result in less apathy and alienation? The project aims to contribute significantly to improving the care and the quality of life of elderly people with dementia.

About VELUX FONDEN
VELUX FONDEN is a charitable foundation which supports scientific, cultural, social and environmental projects. Additionally, the foundation supports active elderly people, research in aging and eye research. In 2016, VELUX FONDEN awarded grants totalling DKK 259 million.

VELUX FONDEN was founded in 1981 by MSc in Engineering Villum Kann Rasmussen - founder of e.g. VELUX A/S and other companies in the VKR Group, which aims to bring daylight, fresh air and a better environment into people’s everyday lives.

Further information

Professor Dorthe Berntsen
Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences – Con Amore
Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University
Email: dorthe@psy.au.dk
Tel.: +4587165868

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