It is inevitable that we all show a slight decline in our cognitive abilities with increasing age, but what causes some of us to ‘drop-off’ to a greater degree than others? This question is a key focus of the Rusted lab group, with much of our research targeting the APOE gene, strongly associated with both cognitive decline and risk of dementia. The APOE gene has attracted considerable research attention due to its apparent contradictory effect across the lifespan. Studies have suggested a cognitive advantage in younger years for carriers of the APOE e4 variant, in contrast to its detrimental effect in later life. As such, understanding the trajectory of this gene across the lifespan is important for advancing what we know about the pathway into dementia.
Claire Lancaster, a first year PhD student in the Rusted lab, is currently examining this important question. Healthy adults aged 45-55 years are being invited to participate in an exploration of how attention and executive functioning differs in mid-adulthood according to APOE genotype. Using a battery of different cognitive measures, subtle differences in these processes can be identified. It is likely that some cognitive processes are more important determinants of cognitive ageing than others – for example, changes in speed of processing can affect performance across a number of tasks, whereas changes in visuospatial skills would only affect specific tasks. By identifying the specific nature of the APOE e4 effect on cognition, we can predict its broader impact on performance. In addition to a strong behavioural focus, our work will consider individual differences in biological factors (weight, blood pressure, grip strength, alcohol intake and exercise) and lifestyle factors (occupation, education and leisure activities). The research includes these measures in the study to explore how multiple vulnerability factors for cognitive decline interact with APOE status in healthy adults.
Volunteers are still being recruited for the research. If you are interested in participating, please contact Claire for more details (firstname.lastname@example.org, 01273 678916).