Manuela Pastore-Wapp

Internal and external effects on cognition. Evidence from memory training in very preterm-born children and cognition in patients with carotid artery stenosis before and after treatment

PhD Student: Manuela Pastore-Wapp

Supervisors: Regula Everts (Pediatrics) & Walter Perrig (Psychology)

Preterm-born children are at increased risk of cognitive deficits and behavioural problems compared with peers born at term. One cognitive domain that is often impaired in these children is memory. My thesis determined whether memory training would improve cognitive functions in school-age very preterm-born children. Memory strategy training produced significant improvements in trained and non-trained cognitive functions; a core working memory training revealed significant effects on short-term memory and working memory tasks. Six months after training, children in both training groups showed better working memory performance than children in the waiting control group. This is evidence that memory training – an external influence on cognition – induces plastic changes in very preterm-born children.  Patients with carotid artery stenosis are known to be at increased risk of cognitive impairment. We showed that patients with symptomatic or asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis were at higher risk for cognitive deficits than expected in a normative sample. This thesis seeks to link cognitive plasticity to internal factors like carotid stenosis. An external factor, which influences blood flow to the brain is the nature of the carotid artery stenosis treatment. Research on the effects of carotid artery stenosis treatment on cognition has produced inconsistent results. We found significant improvement in frontal lobe functions, visual memory and motor speed one year after treatment independent of the treatment type (best medical treatment, carotid artery stenting, carotid artery endarterectomy); providing evidence for ‘treatment-induced’ cognitive plasticity. Baseline performance was negatively associated with improvement in various cognitive functions after training in very preterm-born children and after treatment in patients with carotid artery stenosis.

Photo Manuela

The project started in October 2013 and was terminated in March 2016 with the defense.