Older person's hands holding smartphone 

Exciting research that seeks to use digital cognitive tests based on smartphone technology for the detection of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease will be conducted by Louisa Thompson, Ph.D., recipient of a Clinician Scientist Fellowship Grant Award from the Alzheimer’s Association. Dr. Thompson is a research scientist with the Butler Hospital Memory and Aging Program and an Instructor in Psychiatry & Human Behavior at Brown University.

This new funding will support research to evaluate how to use smartphone (app-based) and online cognitive tests, as well as other digital assessment tools, to detect subtle changes in memory and thinking that occur prior to the onset of major clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The project’s goal is important to developing more effective strategies for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease to facilitate treatment research, and give patients and providers a greater window for treatment and care planning. In light of the current pandemic, the project (called the DigiCog AD study) is also timely in providing older adults with an option to participant in Alzheimer’s research remotely, without the need for in-person study visits. 

The grant award provides Dr. Thompson with $174,993 over three years to evaluate the effectiveness of such digital testing, particularly as it compares to traditional paper and pencil tests that are currently used to detect symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer’s research in the world. The Association is currently investing $167 million in more than 500 active best-of-field projects in 27 countries.

Attracting brilliant and innovative scientists to the Alzheimer’s field is a major goal of the Alzheimer’s Association Research Grant and Fellowship Awards. The program funds primarily early-career scientists working on new ideas in Alzheimer’s research. The hope is that this will lead to future grant applications to government and other funding sources, including larger grants available through the Alzheimer’s Association.

“The only way we will achieve a world without Alzheimer’s is through research. Funding Dr. Thompson not only supports this critical project, but is part of a broader Alzheimer’s Association effort to keep the best and brightest scientists working on this disease,” said Donna M. McGowan, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island Chapter.

Dr. Thompson conducts neuropsychological assessments with older adults in the memory clinic and serves as the lead psychologist on the Atlas of Retinal Imaging Study. She also conducts research focused on Alzheimer’s early detection, with particular interests in evaluating novel technologies and methods for identifying individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, and improving screening methods for Alzheimer’s clinical trials.

 “Independent scientific research is critical for determining which new forms of technology might be most effective for Alzheimer’s screening. Minimizing burden for patients and healthcare providers without compromising the accuracy of our tests is a major goal. Using mobile technology to conduct a more dynamic assessment of cognitive function is particularly exciting to me.  This real-time approach may be helpful for capturing very subtle cognitive decline within the context of daily living.”

The Research Grant and Fellowship Awards are part of the broader Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant Program. Alzheimer’s Association funding has led to some of the most important research breakthroughs, including the first Alzheimer’s drug studies and the ability to visualize amyloid plaque buildup in the living brain.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It kills more Americans than diabetes and more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association     2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. By 2050, the number of people with Alzheimer’s is projected to rise to nearly 14 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or stop the disease.

If you are interested in participating in this study, please join Butler’s Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry  at butler.org/AlzRegistry.  To speak with a member of the Outreach Team please email them at memory@butler.org or call 401-455-6402. 


Related Resources

Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry at Butler Hospital 

Learn more about research studies at the Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital 


If you’re 40+ with normal memory or mild memory loss, you can help in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Here’s how: butler.org/ALZregistry 

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