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Our Research

The NEIL programme brings together a core group of Irish researchers to focus on the development of a completely new programme of research for multi-level interventions to delay and/or prevent dementia. Here is a sample of NEIL research studies aimed not only at the identification of optimum methods for enhancing cognitive function, but also at the identification of markers of cognitive decline.

To view a list of our scientific publications, please visit our publications page.

ACAD - Automated Cognitive Assessment Delivery

Project description: We have developed an automated, repeatable, computerised, cognitive assessment tool, suitable for online delivery on personal computers and mobile devices.

Status: Complete - We have validated this brief cognitive assessment and published our results (Di Rosa et al, 2014). We are currently seeking collaborators who may with to help develop use of this instrument further.

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Active Body, Active Brain

Project description: This project involved coordinating a course to train 30 staff from the Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI) in Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST), to facilitate the delivery of CST in the community, and to evaluate the impact of the project.

Status: Complete - Approximately 18 CST groups were developed by the staff who received training, and 127 people with dementia attend these groups currently. 13 new staff were also trained as facilitators. A learning event was hosted and a report on project outcomes delivered to ASI senior management recommending further development in the community and day care settings.

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Alertness Training for Focused Living (ATFL)

Project description: A randomised controlled trial of a self-administered, home-based intervention or older people to help increase alertness, with a view to improving daily life activities. This intervention was developed in collaboration with TRIL (Technology Research for Independent Living).

Status: Complete - this study has been published (Milewski-Lopez et al, 2014). The intervention is one of two of our training programmes (also Working Memory Training - see below) that have been adopted for a proposed EU-funded multi-centre rehabilitation trial with older people with and without amyloid beta protein in their brains. This proposed study has reached the second round of a Horizon 2020 funding call, and the extended proposal is currently in preparation.

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ASAPS: A Sharing Approach to Promoting Science

Project description: This FP7 funded project aims to promote health research and healthy ageing, with a core focus on the promotion of science and health through sharing.

Status: Complete - Outputs from the study included a brain health awareness campaign (Hello Brain), a multi-lingual website which provides easy-to-understand information and short films about brain health and brain research, a mobile app to support users to be proactive about brain health and a 60 minute documentary highlighting the importance of brain research. In addition, the project engaged in extensive outreach activities and has also produced more traditional materials aimed at engaging adults in an educational-preventative context. The multi-lingual website can be viewed at:

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Project description: The aim of this project is to standardise the use of CSF biomarkers throughout Europe as part of the diagnostic work up for people with neurodegenerative disorders.

Status: Ongoing - The study is in its final year. The project has established the Irish Network for Biomarkers in Neurodegeneration (INBIND). Normal and disease ranges for the ELISA assay that will be established at the Central Pathology Laboratory, St James Hospital, have been developed. Blood and CSF samples have been collected for collaborative studies in Ireland and with investigators in Europe.

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CST: Caregiver Support Tool Study

Project description: The caregiver support tool is a software application, presented on a touchscreen tablet, aimed at providing instrumental and educational support for spousal caregivers of individuals with dementia. The tool combines video footage of experts discussing different topics relevant to dementia care, with informative articles, and encourages the caregiver to periodically self-assess and monitor their psychosocial wellbeing, using standardised questionnaires. The inclusion of this metric capability allows researchers to quantify the impact of the support that the tool offers. 

Status: Complete - the tool has been delivered to users in the community and evaluated.

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Cognitive, Cellular and Electrophysioloigcal Markers of Memory Performance in Older Adults

Project description: This project seeks to identify and explore markers of age-related cognitive decline among normal elderly which will aid prevention and prognosis of such decline.

Status: Complete - This study has been published (Downer et al, 2013).

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Project description: DemPath is an innovative and ambitious care model for people with dementia that aims to integrate care for people with dementia across the Dublin South Inner City community and St James's Hospital in a person-centred way.

Status: Ongoing - This project started in May 2014 with the appointment of a project manager. The process of mapping and planning stages for the development of an intergratedcare pathway are underway with full engagement from all stakeholders.

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De-Stress: Health and well-being of spousal dementia caregivers in Ireland

Project description: De-Stress is an important new study that focusses on the stress levels and cognitive function of people who are caring for their spouse or partner with dementia. The aim of the study is to understand the factors that contribute to both positive and negative health outcomes for caregivers.

Status: Ongoing - This study commenced in June 2013. The project is currently in the final phases of data collection.

For more information see the De-Stress page

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FreeDem Films

Project description: The aim of this project is to develop and evaluate a series of online films that provide practical information, grounded in science, on maintaining cognitive health. 

Status: Ongoing - The project has produced 10 quirky animations that address fears about memory loss, provide practical advice about brain health and address stigma associated with dementa. The films were released in February 2014 and attracted considerable publicity. They have been viewed over 100,000 times in more than 140 countries, and are being used globally for awareness and education by Alzheimer's organisations, hospitals and health service providers. We are currently completing a small evaluation study of the films.

For more information see our FreeDem Films page. You can view the films online at

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Loneliness: A Randomised Controlled Trial

Project description: NEIL’s Professor Brian Lawlor with the Ageing Well Network completed this study to investigate how we can support older adults who may experience loneliness with a befriending intervention.

Status: Complete - The study is complete, and demonstrated a decrease in loneliness in older people receiving a volunteer visit to promote social connection for 10 weeks compared to usual treatment. The novel findings are currently being written up for publication.

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Memory Research Unit

Project description: We have established a Memory Research Unit to follow a large group of adults aged 50+ longitudinally. We use a comprehensive protocol at both baseline and follow up assessments to collect detailed data on memory and related cognitive processes, and a range of factors that may impact on these processes as we age. This rich database will allow us to conduct extensive research, to investigate a range of hypotheses related to cognitive ageing.

Status: Ongoing - We have completed baseline assessments with approximately 1,000 volunteers, and almost 400 participants have completed a two-year follow-up assessment. We are working to analyse the data collected to date and publish our findings.

For more information see the Memory Research Unit page

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NIBS: Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation

Project description: This study found that we can reduce problems in detecting errors among older adults by applying NIBS to the right hemisphere of the brain.  TACS (transcranial alternating current stimulation) study investigated just how this problem reduction operates.

Status: Complete - We have published this study (Harty et al, 2014), showing that iny voltage stimulation of the right frontal lobe improves older people's deficits in recognising their errors. We are now progressing towards similar studies with other groups of elderly people, as well as people with early Alzheimer's disease.

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Project description: This double-blind placebo controlled study is testing the efficacy and safety of nilvadipine for mild to moderate Alzheimer's Disease (AD). If this trial is successful, nilvadipine would represent an advance in the treatment of AD patients and would have a major impact on the health and social care costs incurred in Europe by this neurodegenerative disorder.

Status: Ongoing - The project began in January 2012 and will finish in December 2016. Recruitment closed in December 2014.

For more information see our NILVAD page or

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PhD Project: Awareness in Alzheimer's Disease

Project description: This PhD project will examine issues related to awareness in people with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease

Status: Ongoing - Eric Lacey is in his first year, has created a tablet-based bedside assessment for awareness in dementia and is currently establishing validity and reliability. He plans to validate this tablet based assessment in people with dementia.

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PhD Project: Cognitive performance, BDNF and fitness

Project description: This project is investigating how brain chemistry can interact with physical fitness to impact our performance in cognitive tasks. The relationship between fitness, baseline circulating BDNF, noradrenaline, dopamine and cognitive performance will be examined.

Status: Complete - the findings of this project have been written up as part of Jennifer Fortune's PhD thesis, and Jennifer successfully passed her viva exam in January 2016. The findings will be submitted for publication over the coming months.

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PhD Project: Cognitive reserve and age-related cognitive decline

Project description: This study will follow a large group of participants from our Memory Research Unit over 2 years, to examine the influence of cognitive reserve on age-related cognitive decline. The project will also test the hypothesis that cognitive reserve is mediated by noradrenergic function, using pupil diameter as a measure.

Status: Complete - The findings of this project have been written up as part of Caoimhe Hannigan's PhD thesis, and Caoimhe successfully passed her viva in February 2016. The findings will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication over the coming months.

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PhD Project: Pupillometry and noradrenergic levels in older adults

Project description: The study investigated how we can use information from the pupils to tell us about chemical levels in the brains of older adults. The chemical in question, noradrenaline, may have a role in keeping our brain healthy.

Status: Complete - We have shown that pupil dilation is a marker of noradrenergic activity, which is a major breakthrough, allowing us to move towards identification of very specific mechanisms of cognitive compensation in older people, with relevance to the development of new treatment and training procedures.

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PhD Project: Stress and markers of cognitive decline

Project description:This study explores how physiological differences and responses such as stress may contribute to healthy ageing.

Status: Ongoing - PhD student Michael O'Sullivan is in his final year, and is currently writing up his thesis for submission.

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Queen's University Belfast Study

Project description: Prof R Carson commenced a project in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast that is developing methods to mitigate the loss of strength and function that occurs in older adults as a consequence of fall-related injury.Two post-doctoral positions are associated with this program of research. Recruitment of participants to a RCT that is assessing the benefits of SMART Arm training for acute stroke survivors is ongoing.

Status: Ongoing

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RelAte - Benefit of relationship based mealtime intervention in socially isolated older adults

Project description: RelAte is a novel study investigating the use of a mealtime intervention to improve social support and nutritional health among older adults who live alone.

Status: Complete - We have published some qualitiative findings from the study, and a publication detailing the main study findings is under review. We also published a lay report detailing the findings of the project in language suitable for the general public.

For more information see the RelAte page

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Systematic Reviews of Interventions Impacting Cognitive Function

Project description: Following a competitive process, Early Intervention Co-ordinator Dr. Michelle Kelly secured a grant from the HRB and HSC Research and Development Northern Ireland to attend an intensive two-day Cochrane Review training course. Dr. Kelly, in collaboration with Prof Lawlor, Prof Robertson and Dr Brennan, completed two systematic reviews.

Status: Complete - Two systematic reviews have been published (Kelly et al, 2014(a); Kelly et al, 2014(b)), and Dr. Kelly also won the Cochrane prize for best poster.

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The Ageing Brain, Training and Plasticity

Project description: Prof Carson is commencing a new project that will examine the potential for positive transfer from coordination training regimes to the cognitive domain. In conjunction with colleagues at the University of Tasmania, there will be related exploration of how brain plasticity mechanisms influence individual differences in cognitive and motor function and training responsiveness.

Status: Ongoing

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VSL3: Probiotics and the Brain

Project description: A randomised controlled trial to test the effects of a probiotic supplement (VSL#3) on cognitive function among normally ageing adults.

Status: Complete - Data collection and analysis for this study is complete, and the findings have been submitted for publication.

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Web-based Working Memory Training

Project description: A randomised controlled trial of a web-based working memory training programme. This intervention shows considerable promise as a cognitive enhancement tool and is well position for large-scale roll out.

Status: Complete - this study has been published (McAvinue et al, 2013). The intervention is one of two of our training programmes that have been adopted for a proposed EU-funded multi-centre rehabilitation trial with older people with and without amyloid beta protein in their brains. This proposed study has reached the second round of a Horizon 2020 funding call, and the extended proposal is currently in preparation.

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Last updated 26 July 2018

Enhance / Enable / Educate / Empower