WSU awarded grant to test new intervention

Dennis Dyck

Researchers at WSU have received a $320,000 grant from the Alzheimer’s Association to test a novel intervention for treating individuals with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

This three-year early intervention study will be the first to examine the effectiveness of a new treatment method that integrates two existing interventions: One is a cognitive rehabilitation method built, in part, on the work of Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, WSU professor of psychology and principal investigator of this study. The other is a multifamily group therapy that was originally developed to treat schizophrenia. Dennis Dyck, co-principal investigator and WSU professor of psychology in neurosciences, successfully adapted this family-based treatment for patients with traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. He is working with researchers from the Veterans Affairs Health Care System to adapt the treatment for traumatic brain injury in returning veterans specifically.
The goal of the three-year intervention is to identify ways to keep people functioning independently for longer, decrease caregiver burden and increase social support networks for both patients and family.
“We don’t have any proven pharmacological interventions right now,” said Schmitter-Edgecombe, “and there’s not a whole lot out there in terms of education or support for individuals and their families when people do get diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. So we’re hoping that we will be developing something that can be used to help patients and their family members cope and compensate.”
Using a randomized, controlled study design, the study will look at 40 patient-caregiver “teams,” or dyads, half of whom will be included in the intervention. The other half, who will serve as controls, will receive standard care from their personal physicians and be tested at the same intervals as the intervention group.
The 10-week intervention consists of twice weekly sessions in multi-family groups of five to seven dyads led by two clinicians. Sessions alternate between those aimed at teaching cognitive skills and memory strategies, such as the use of a memory notebook to record past actions and plan future ones, and those focused on problem-solving activities and socialization, which are central to the multi-group family treatment method.
“Working with both patient and caregiver is key,” Dyck said. “There’s a lot of information that a clinician normally doesn’t get that can be obtained by including the spouse or caregiver.” He also said the team approach helps strengthen the mutual understanding of the difficulties being faced.
Researchers are looking to run intervention groups in Spokane, Pullman and potentially Lewiston, Idaho, starting in late spring or early summer of next year. Study participants will be recruited through multiple methods, including referrals by study collaborator David Greeley, a neurologist with Northwest Neurological.
WSU research associate Diane Norell will train and supervise the clinicians who will be conducting the groups.
Related links

Washington State University

Alzheimer’s Association, Inland Northwest Chapter

“Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe’s work to help people with memory loss” – Washington State Magazine, Spring 2009

“Research Brings Hope to Injured Veterans” – WSU Spokane Campus Bulletin, May 14, 2008

Researchers will conduct cognitive testing both prior to and following the intervention to determine its effectiveness.

“What we’re hoping to see is that patients use the memory techniques and strategies they have been taught and that they will report fewer everyday memory lapses as a result,” Schmitter-Edgecombe said.
Other anticipated outcomes include less reported distress and enhanced quality of life for members of the dyad, as well as a strengthening of their relationship.
Individuals interested in participating in this study may call (509) 335-4033, ext. 1, for additional information. Eligible individuals must be 50 years or older; be experiencing mild memory problems (to be verified through screening); be able to participate in psychometric testing and groups; and have a spouse or another family member or friend willing to participate. There is no cost to participate, and each dyad will receive an honorarium.
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research.