Interaction between memory and other cognitive functions Building on our previous work, we will investigate the basis for inter-individual differences in memory capacity and how the latter is shaped by executive attention. Are differences in WM capacity best explained by inter-individual differences in the effectiveness of attentional selection processes? Does a high memory capacity come at the cost of the quality of the representations, i.e., the preciseness of the representations? How do individual perceptual capabilities (i.e., peripheral visual acuity) contribute to differences in attention and memory performance? How do individuals differ in their sensitivity to emotions when forming memory representations? How is the memory content modulated after the initial encoding has been accomplished, and do inter-individual differences in the ability to remove irrelevant information from memory (i.e., directed forgetting) contribute to varying memory capacities? These projects will be performed in close cooperation with our university partners (Prof. Hopf, Neurology and Prof. Hoffmann, Eye Clinic).
Non-invasive brain stimulation and cognitive training We will combine non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) with cognitive training paradigms in oder to boost neuronal transfer effects on non-trained tasks. Therefore, we are planning to shed more light onto our tDCS and cognitive training findings, we are currently conducting further experiments, which involve neuroimaging as well as electrophysiological approaches. Our goal is to identify the role of the frontoparietal network nodes in working memory tasks under distraction, especially the prefrontal cortex, posterior parietal cortex as well as basal ganglia. The long-term aim is to develop a deeper understanding of the individual response to tDCS in order to deduce personalized preventative as well as therapeutic interventions, i.e. for Parkinson´s Disease.
Prevention research Regarding our future prevention studies, we aim to a) extend our studies to elderly individuals at risk of dementia and b) to develop individualized training protocols. The latter is driven by the observation that there is no such thing as „one size fits all“ intervention. This explains why the neuroplastic response to cognitive and physical training varies tremendously across individuals. Therefore, we are currently preparing a grant application (in collaboration with Dr. Rehfeld and Prof. Taubert (Sport Science) and Dr. Schreiber (Neurology)) entitled: “Individualized training programs for neuroprotection in elderly individuals at risk of dementia” in which we want to use PET as a surrogate marker for the predicted training response. We also plan to use more realistic training scenarios, including VR, to make our training conditions more attractive and motivating and to induce more far transfer effects on other functions. Regarding VR development, we will collaborate with the Aging & Cognition group (Prof. Wolbers). Furthermore, based on previous research (Müller et al., 2015), we plan to enhance the effects of our cognitive training sessions using electrical brain stimulation, simulated hypoxia, by including preceding physical exercise and by sleep modulation (in cooperation with Prof. Floeel, Greifswald). Ultimately, using the recently established performance lab, we plan to establish a start-up company dedicated to the development of technologies for the enhancement of cognitive functions in the elderly.
Early Diagnosis Another line of research will assess taste as a potential marker of brain degeneration (in collaboration with Prof. Noesselt, Institute of Biological Psychology). Consistent with the idea of developing more realistic approaches, we have started to design a test battery that assesses cognitive abilities in real world settings. We believe that these tests will provide a more valid estimation of an individual’s capacities in daily life activities. Regarding the neurophysiological correlates of emerging cognitive decline, we will evaluate the ability of our system to assess slow cortical potentials using a longitudinal approach. Moreover, the capabilities of the system will be expanded for use as a neurofeedback system for cognitive training. With respect to individualized discharge management, we will evaluate our new decision path in a large sample of patients. The evaluation will involve a new app for the assessment of the post-discharge well-being of the patients and their caregivers. These goals shall be achieved in cooperation with the DZNE sites in Rostock/Greifswald (Dr. Thyrian).