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Spotlight on Dr Christiane Oedekoven

Research Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience at the School of Psychology

Previous research

I got into research by accident. I never planned on becoming a researcher. I first studied Psychology in Marburg in Germany, before working in HR, and then along came a PhD position in memory research that interested me and things just moved from there. I wasn't a kid who was like ‘when I grow up I want to be a scientist’! However, I love my job now.  I am very much interested in memory because it’s such an important part of who we are.

Current research

We are all getting older and as you get older your memory gets worse. In some people that ends up with them having dementia. What I study is how older people's memory is different, and whether you can see evidence of this in the brain.

Christiane Oedekoven Spotlight PhotoMemory tests in the lab are not always helpful. I could ask you to memorise ‘cat’, ‘house’, a list of words, and it is nothing to do with your everyday life. We aim to capture everyday memory for events, called episodic memory, which is the first to go in dementia.

I show older people short videos and ask them to remember it while they are having a brain scan. I then look at what their brain does while they watch the video and when they try and remember the video. I aim to see how brain networks differ between people who are healthy and older, and people who have some form of dementia or precursor of dementia.

We are aiming to not just understand how memory of older people gets worse, but also understand when memory problems start. By improving memory over the lifespan and delaying dementia, dementia wouldn't be as devastating as it is now. That is exciting in that we could help a lot of people eventually.

We really know little about our brains, or what's going on in them. Even though in my research I try to find out which bits of the brain are active when you remember things, it's not just one little bit of your brain, it's always a whole network and we really don't know a whole lot about how it all interacts.

Christiane Oedekoven Spotlight PhotoI use functional brain scans to look at what goes on in people's brains while they remember things. I think the challenge here is to interpret it really, because I can only see where the blood flow goes in their brain when they think of stuff. People tend to think MRI scans can read your thoughts, but that is not the case! The biggest challenge is actually to interpret what we find and to link behavioural data with brain data in a way that makes sense.

We are the only people looking at life-like memory for events, in old people with memory problems. There are a lot of people studying ageing and dementia, and there are quite a few people who use videos and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at memory. But to have this combination by looking at people with memory impairment by using lifelike events in an MRI scanner is quite unique.

As we are all getting older we are more at risk of developing dementia and my research tries to tackle that issue, by finding ways of understanding memory better, and improving memory in the long run.

The future

Our new study focuses on memory strategies. As well as investigating how older people remember things, we are also interested in how to improve memory. We are looking at different memory strategies and how they might improve memory for events. Participants either watch videos and watch them again, or watch videos and describe them, and we expect there to be a difference between these two options. The idea is that if you describe things you’ve learned, they stick in your memory better than if you just restudied the same thing again. That works for exams as well!

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By: Alexander Aghajanian
Last updated: Thursday, 14 June 2018