Developing a new evidence-based treatment for moderate to severe dementia

University College London
London, United Kingdom
DOI: 10.18258/14098
Raised of $5,400 Goal
Funded on 11/14/19
Successfully Funded
  • $5,401
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 11/14/19

About This Project

The World Health Organization calls for an increase in psychosocial interventions for dementia. While the prevalence of dementia is projected to reach 152 million in 2050, there are limited effective treatments for its severe forms.

The current project will develop a complex intervention for moderate to severe dementia. We hypothesize that multi-sensory stimulation can enhance cognitive functions in these individuals. The raised funds would cover four months of the project.

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What is the context of this research?

Dementia currently affects 50 million individuals worldwide, and Alzheimer's disease is its most common form. The World Health Organization recognizes dementia as a public health priority since its prevalence is projected to reach 152 million in 2050. There is an urgent need for advancement in effective psychosocial interventions.

People with dementia live for around 8 to 11 years from diagnosis to death. It's vital to maximize their cognitive functions and quality of life with an intervention. Most strong evidence-based research is for those who are at earlier stages and are still able to communicate verbally. There is little understanding or guidance as to how to improve functioning for those with severe dementia.

What is the significance of this project?

While dementia is a global epidemic, there is no cure. Only 5 drugs are approved by the FDA to reduce its symptoms. The Lancet Commission on global mental health (2018) also calls for an increase in innovative interventions because “psychological therapies seem to have a greater enduring effect than pharmacological therapies” and have minimal adverse side effects.

This project is the first to develop a complex intervention for moderate-severe dementia with the key principles of Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST). There are currently limited effective interventions available for the severe forms of dementia. CST, co-developed by my supervisor, Prof. Aimee Spector, is the only treatment recommended by U.K. gov't guidelines to improve cognition for people with mild-moderate dementia.

What are the goals of the project?

Our goal is to address the research gap and develop a new multi-modal evidence-based complex intervention for people with moderate-severe dementia using the Medical Research Council framework.

We will focus on the multi-sensory aspects of stimulation because people with moderate-severe dementia often have language deficits. Stimulation via senses would potentially be more effective than talk therapy. Since CST is the primary psychosocial intervention used for improving cognitive functions for mild-moderate dementia in the UK, we will use the principles of CST to develop this new therapy.

We hypothesize that multi-sensory stimulation can enhance the cognitive functions of people with moderate-severe dementia.


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The first stage of the experiment focuses on intervention design. The design is critical for the implementation and overall success of the entire study.

Design: We aim to use multi-sensory aspects to cognitively stimulate people with moderate to severe dementia, based on CST with the Medical Research Council framework.

Training: As suggested by the World Health Organization and Lancet Commission, we aim to train non-specialists, such as community health workers and caregivers, to deliver the intervention; this would scale up the treatment and make it more accessible to communities worldwide.

Platform fee: Experiment charges an 8% platform fee plus payment processing fees (See payouts guide).

Unlike universities in the U.S., Ph.D. students in the U.K. do not receive a stipend from the school. Students need to find external sources of funding. The cost of living in London is around GBP$20K/year (USD$24K/ year). The raised funds would be sufficient for 4 months of the stipend.

Endorsed by

I enthusiastically endorse Esther Hui, an extremely talented, ambitious and enthusiastic student who is passionate about dementia research. She is about to embark on her PhD in Psychology with me at UCL. She is proposing a critical and novel treatment for severe dementia. The project directly addresses a research gap and can potentially impact the healthcare industry worldwide.

Project Timeline

We plan to deliver lab notes with videos and written descriptions to backers at each milestone for the year-long pilot study. We will be developing the intervention within the first four months (see "Additional Information" for details).

For the pilot study, we aim to develop, validate and implement the new intervention in 50 people from care homes and community services within Greater London. We plan to examine changes in cognitive function and quality of life with a pre-/post-test design.

Sep 30, 2019

Project Launched

Dec 23, 2019

Intervention Design

Jan 23, 2020

Training (i.e. research and clinical staff)

Jun 23, 2020

Data Collection

Aug 23, 2020

Data Cleaning and Analysis

Meet the Team

Esther Hui
Esther Hui
PhD Candidate


University College London
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Aimee Spector
Aimee Spector
Professor of Old Age Clinical Psychology


University College London
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Team Bio

Our team consists of an expert and a student. Prof. Aimee Spector is a specialist in the development and evaluation of psychosocial interventions and outcome measures. Esther, Ph.D. student, is dedicated to building her diverse and quality skill-sets in psychology to advance dementia research.

Esther Hui

Esther is a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology at University College London (UCL)—recipient of the UCL Overseas Research Scholarship and the UCL Doctoral School Fellowship. Her primary supervisor is Prof. Aimee Spector.

Esther's research focuses on cognitive science, dementia, and complex interventions. For her doctoral thesis, she is developing an evidence-based intervention for people with moderate to severe dementia with multi-sensory aspects of cognitive stimulation. Her goal is to invent the next gold standard treatment for people with dementia.

Before her doctoral studies, she worked in multiple medical disciplines in the U.S and H.K. Her unique set of experiences in public health, neuropsychology, neuroscience, and ophthalmology instilled in her the practical expertise needed to conduct high-level research.

Aimee Spector

Aimee Spector is an Old Age Clinical Psychology Professor at UCL and the Director of the International Cognitive Stimulation Therapy Center. Her research broadly focuses on the development and evaluation of psychosocial interventions and outcome measures for people with dementia. She co-invented the novel treatment for dementia, Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST), which is now recommended by UK government guidelines (NICE, 2018) and is the primary psychosocial intervention offered by UK memory clinics.

Her recent research has taken a more global focus, for example, she leads an MRC funded implementation trial of CST in Brazil, India, and Tanzania; and work closely with colleagues from the University of Hong Kong (through a formal strategic partnership), where they have looked at neuropsychological mechanisms of CST through neuroimaging. Other intervention research has included evaluation of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness and Compassion Focused Therapy to manage mood problems in dementia, as well as several training programs for dementia care staff. She has developed and published a range of outcome measures including measures of dementia knowledge, sense of competence, hope and resilience, and independence and engagement.

Additional Information

Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) is an evidence-based psychological treatment for cognitive function in people with mild-moderate dementia. It consists of 14 twice-weekly group sessions in 7 weeks, involving mental stimulation activities. CST’s effects on cognitive function are comparable to anti-dementia drugs, such as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChEI). The World Alzheimer Report 2011 by Alzheimer’s Disease International recommends CST to be offered routinely to dementia people worldwide. Over the last 20 years, the intervention has expanded to more than 30 countries and over 85% of U.K. memory clinics.

After this pilot study, we aim to further adapt the new intervention to other countries—starting with Hong Kong.

Project Backers

  • 36Backers
  • 100%Funded
  • $5,401Total Donations
  • $150.03Average Donation
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