School of Nursing Researcher Receives $2M NIH Grant to Study Dementia Intervention

Sep. 15, 2015
Computerized Training Program Shows Promise in Slowing Cognitive Decline
Feng (Vankee) Lin, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor at the UR School of Nursing and the Department of Psychiatry, seeks to improve the everyday functioning for people at risk of dementia through computer-based training programs.

 A University of Rochester School of Nursing researcher has earned a $2 million National Institutes of Health grant to determine if a computer-based training program can lower a person’s risk for dementia.

Feng (Vankee) Lin, Ph.D, R.N., assistant professor at the UR School of Nursing and the Department of Psychiatry, will lead a four-year study testing vision-based speed of processing (VSOP) cognitive training and its effect on slowing cognitive decline in adults  at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. VSOP cognitive training features a series of computer exercises that simulate real-world activities aimed at sharpening a person’s attention and ability to process information.

More than 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In the Finger Lakes region alone, that includes an estimated 25,000 people. That number is projected to grow unless significant progress is made in discovering ways to prevent, slow, or stop Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’m passionate about this field of nursing research because the needs are very urgent due to our aging population,” Lin says. “Computerized training could be a very promising tool that individuals and families can draw from in their fight against cognitive decline and the development of dementia.”

In a promising pilot study, Lin’s research indicated that mentally stimulating activities driven by VSOP cognitive training may help protect people’s brains from cognitive decline.

In the new study, Lin and her multidisciplinary team, including researchers from psychiatry, neurology, and brain and cognitive sciences,  will test VSOP training in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), who are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Older adults with MCI are typically able to complete everyday activities, but might struggle with other independent living tasks, such as cooking or driving. Lin hopes to determine whether VSOP training could be a viable clinical tool in slowing or reversing the progression of disease for adults with MCI.

 “Computerizing training can be done safely and is enjoyable, cost-effective, and flexible for patients with MCI. With this research, we will be able to shed much-needed light on whether this type of training works to improve processing speed and attention, whether that leads to sustainable change in brain function and structure, and how that impacts the broad cognitive and functional health of the brain,” Lin says.

For the study, Lin and her research team are currently recruiting adults aged 60 years or older who have been clinically diagnosed with MCI. Learn more at
The University of Rochester Medical Center is one of the nation’s premier Alzheimer’s disease clinical research sites. A pilot study, which generated initial data used in the application to NIH, was funded by a KL2 Career Development Award from URMC’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, NIH, and the Alzheimer’s Association.