UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Language and Cognition Seminar - The role(s) of language in determining Alzheimer’s risk

01 November 2016, 4:00 pm–5:00 pm

Event Information


Chandler House, room 118

Speaker: Professor Alison Wray, Centre for Language and Communication Research, Cardiff University

It has been known for some while that active bilingualism can offer protection against Alzheimer’s (Alladi et al., 2013; Craik, Bialystok, & Freedman, 2010) by virtue of increasing ‘cognitive reserve’ (Stern, 2006). Recent studies suggest that the development of both cognitive reserve and underlying brain reserve (the size and connectivity of the brain) (Graves et al., 1996) is directly or indirectly linked to: APOE—one of the genes associated with Alzheimer’s (Pettigrew et al., 2013); processing speed (Luciano et al., 2009); memory (Riley, Snowdon, Desrosiers, & Markesbury, 2005); and the development of a secondary network to help with processing if Alzheimer’s is interrupting the primary one (Steffener & Stern, 2012). Somehow to be integrated with all of those are a range of linguistic observations, including that the density with which a young adult packs ideas into a string of words is predictive of whether they will get Alzheimer’s in old age (Engelman, Agree, Meoni, & Klag, 2010; Kemper, Greiner, Marquis, Prenovost, & Mitzner, 2001; Snowdon et al., 1996). Given that language use is socially determined, and that linguistic skills are difficult to separate out from educational experience and general intelligence measures, there are huge challenges for understanding the big picture, with information from several disciplines needing to be integrated and reconciled. With reference to my two current projects, funded by BRACE Alzheimer’s and the Wellcome Trust, I will explore aspects of the maze of biological and social variables that appear to interact to determine Alzheimer’s risk. Our projects are looking for evidence that certain patterns of language can be associated with other risk factors for Alzheimer’s. While we have few completed analyses yet, I will discuss the challenges of deciding what hypotheses to test.

Time: Tuesday 1 November 2016, 4pm

Venue: Room 118, Chandler House, 2 Wakefield St, London WC1N