NUI Galway Researchers to Investigate Human Ageing

Monday, 10 March 2008

NUI Galway's School of Psychology is embarking on new research looking at how cognitive and physiological functions change as we get older. Following the awarding of two separate research grants to Dr. Michael Hogan and Professor Jack James, work is about to commence on two studies investigating issues relating to human ageing.

Researcher and lecturer at the School of Psychology, NUI Galway, Dr. Michael Hogan, says, "We are living through a major demographic shift. There is increasing awareness across all levels of society that we need to invest in successful ageing. The logic and the mathematics are straightforward: everyone benefits when more of us are doing well. More and more, researchers in the field of biological and behavioural science are focusing on how best to maintain high levels of functioning throughout the lifespan. We are fortunate to be working with some of the best researchers in the field on these projects. We aim to understand the brain dynamics that underpin memory problems and Alzheimer's disease, and to understand how sleep patterns and mood influence blood pressure and critical markers of heart disease."

Brain Signals and Memory Performance The first study is being undertaken by a newly established research consortium, involving collaboration between NUI Galway, Trinity College Dublin and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). This research group plans to investigate the relationship between electrical brain signals and the memory ability of both younger and older adults. At NUI Galway, a state of the art electroencephalography (EEG) laboratory has been built, which will allow researchers to identify types of brain activity that correlate with memory performance. From this work, it is hoped that deficits in memory performance can be detected earlier and thus allow for earlier and more successful interventions. The current research effort continues a line of work initiated by Dr. Hogan and colleagues over the past number of years. The decision of GSK to award funding adds further to its growing reputation of the School and of the University as a renowned research centre.

It is hoped that research participants can be located within Galway City who will take part in this groundbreaking research. To this end, Dr. Hogan will visit a number of Active Retirement Groups over the coming week to discuss the project and give people an opportunity to ask questions and express interest in the project. Dr. Hogan will also give a public lecture on Saturday, 15 March at 11am in the Fottrell Theatre, Arts Millennium Building at NUI Galway, to which members of the public are invited.

Sleep Duration, Mood, and Blood Pressure A second study, funded by the Health Research Board, is concerned with the effect that the amount of sleep has on mood and blood pressure. In particular, the project will shed light on a long-standing puzzle concerning the effects of sleep duration on heart health. On one hand, long-term studies indicate that chronic sleep loss contributes to the development of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, sleep loss appears to have little immediate effect on blood pressure level. Professor Jack James and his colleagues think the answer to this puzzle lies in knowing more about the processes that affect blood pressure level.

"Recent work by us suggests that the key to understanding this dilemma may involve a mechanism whereby restricted sleep acutely induces a vascular hemodynamic profile while having little direct effect on blood pressure level. This so-called 'vascular profile' has been identified as a risk factor for development of cardiovascular disease. We think that chronic sleep deprivation may contribute to the development of hypertension and other cardiovascular pathology. The findings of our research could help to inform the development of improved health promotion strategies and clinical management for cardiovascular diseases" said Professor James.

Information on both studies can be obtained directly from the School of Psychology, NUI Galway at (091) 495832. Information packs will also be available at the public lecture.


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