Social perception in mild cognitive impairment

14 February 2017

Sandhya Fernandez
PhD student Sandhya Fernandez is trying to better understand people with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and how they communicate.

As the numbers of older people in the population increases, so too does the prevalence of dementia. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a relatively new concept that identifies those who are at a risk of developing dementia.

University of Waikato PhD student Sandhya Fernandez is conducting research that looks at people with a diagnosis of MCI and how they communicate.

“An important aspect of communication is social perception, which is the ability to accurately understand communication such as facial expressions, emotions and sarcasm. Social perception is very important in forming good relationships,” says Ms Fernandez.

“Social perception changes across the life span, particularly during childhood and adolescence. Currently there is little information about how social perception changes during adulthood, particularly in older age groups as well as in people at a risk of developing dementia,” she says.

Ms Fernandez is studying towards her PhD under the supervision of Professor Nicola Starkey and Dr Carrie Barber within the University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She is also a Clinical Psychologist with the Waikato District Health Board and operates her own private practice.

“Research in early identification of dementia in an increasingly growing older population is important. The early identification of problems in social perception would facilitate intervention programmes that would focus on improving communication skills, improve understanding to the carer about problems and the associated distress in the client, thus lessening burden. Social perception is a significant area, which promises to have implications for interventions in MCI as well as in dementia,” she says.

Ms Fernandez is seeking participants to assist her with her research. If you have received a diagnosis of MCI from your GP or other health professional, then she would like to hear from you. The assessment involves taking part in a number of puzzle/game type tasks across one or two sessions. Each session will take around an hour and a half and participants will receive a $30 supermarket voucher as a thank you for their participation.

If you would like more information, or to be involved with this research, please contact Sandhya Fernandez on 022 199 8650 or [email protected]

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