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Professor Alison Wray (Centre for Language and Communication Research, Cardiff University) will give a guest lecture on the occasion of Imogen Cohen's PhD defense on the following day. There will be drinks afterwards. Everyone is cordially invited to attend.

Detail Summary
Date 22 October 2019
Time 17:00
Location P.C. Hoofthuis
Room 5.60


Can language predict who will get dementia?


Dementia is much feared, worldwide (Alzheimer's Disease International, 2019) and while there is as yet little that can be done to halt its progress, much research currently focusses on finding ways to identify the subset of people who will later succumb to it (Wray, in press, 2020). Hidden biomarkers are sought in genetic profiling, brain scans and analyses of protein deposits in cerebral spinal fluid (e.g. C. W. Ritchie & Ritchie, 2012; C. W. Ritchie, Wells, & Ritchie, 2013), people’s micromovements and gait are measured (e.g. Selge et al., 2018); and subtle cognitive changes are looked for, that might indicate impairment that is not easily seen in a person’s daily functioning (e.g. K. Ritchie et al., 2017). Alongside these approaches is an array of linguistic ones, the rationale being that language is shaped by cognitive capacity, and that it is less intrusive to measure. It follows that one future scenario could be routine linguistic performance profiling, to identify those on the trajectory to dementia.

In this talk I will explore the sorts of linguistic investigations being undertaken, and describe the theory that underpins the research questions in our own current project exploring a subset of them. But I will also problematize the entire matter, pointing to the potential risks of making assumptions about the capacity for language to directly reflect slow cognitive change, given its flexibility as a cognitive device operating as a social tool.

Alzheimer's Disease International. (2019). World Alzheimer's report 2019: Attitudes to dementia.  London. Alzheimer's Disease International:

Ritchie, C. W., & Ritchie, K. (2012). The PREVENT study: a prospective cohort study to identify mid-life biomarkers of late-onset Alzheimer's disease. BMJ Open, 2(6), 1-6. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001893. Print 2012.

Ritchie, C. W., Wells, K., & Ritchie, K. (2013). The PREVENT research programme. A novel research programme to identify and manage midlife risk for dementia: the conceptual framework. International Review of Psychiatry, 25(6), 748-754.

Ritchie, K., Carrière, I., Su, L., O'Brien, J. T., Lovestone, S., Wells, K., & Ritchie, C. W. (2017). The midlife cognitive profiles of adults at high risk of late-onset Alzheimer's disease: the PREVENT study. Alzheimer's and Dementia, 13(10), 1089-1097.

Selge, C., Schoeberl, F., Zwergal, A., Nuebling, G., Brandt, T., Dieterich, M., . . . Jahn, K. (2018). Gait analysis in PSP and NPH: dual-task conditions make the difference. Neurology, 90(12), e1021-1028.Wray, A. (in press, 2020). The dynamics of dementia communication. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wray, A. (in press, 2020). The Dynamics of Dementia Communication. New York: Oxford University Press.

Personal page Alison Wray

P.C. Hoofthuis
P.C. Hoofthuis

Room 5.60

Spuistraat 134
1012 VB Amsterdam