student profile: Ms Cherie Strikwerda-brown


Thesis work

Thesis title: Changes to sense of self in dementia: cognitive and neurobiological underpinnings

Supervisors: Muireann IRISH , Olivier PIGUET

Thesis abstract:

Dementia is an increasing national and international health issue, given the rising prevalence. Improved understanding of the symptoms of dementia and their underlying mechanisms is critical to inform potential treatments and improve quality of life in patients and their carers. Younger onset dementia represents a unique burden on the economy and carers, yet understanding of the mechanisms driving cognitive and behavioural dysfunction in this group remains limited.

A highly important, but poorly studied, feature of dementia relates to alterations in the patient’s sense of identity. Identity is a multi-faceted construct, involving both personality traits and narratives of one’s life experiences. Research into changes in identity in dementia has thus far been conflicting, with the majority of studies focusing on only one aspect of this complex construct. Improved understanding in this area requires a multi-faceted approach, deconstructing changes to identity from cognitive and neurobiological angles.

This study will deconstruct changes to identity in dementia in three unique ways. First, I will employ theoretically-informed neuropsychological tests to tap self-related cognitive processes including memory, prospection, and social cognition. Second, I will develop a novel questionnaire capturing changes in identity as perceived by both the person with dementia and their carer. Finally, I will use advanced neuroimaging techniques to determine the neurobiological basis of alterations in identity across different dementia syndromes (frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease).

Understanding how identity changes in dementia is crucial for person-centered care approaches to optimize quality of life and wellbeing for patients and their carers. Elucidating the neural substrates of self-related processing impairments across different dementias will further guide the timing and delivery of disease-modifying treatments and tracking their efficacy over time.

Note: This profile is for a student at the University of Sydney. Views presented here are not necessarily those of the University.