By Gemma Conroy
Since she began her career as a cognitive neuroscientist, Dr Muireann Irish has uncovered surprising information on how various forms of dementia compromise memory.
Playing classical music to patients with Alzheimer’s disease, for example, can trigger them to recall specific memories and key events from the past.
“It’s an example of how research can be applied in a creative but practical way,” she says.
While dementia is most often associated with an inability to recall the past, Muireann’s research has revealed how memory and future forms of thinking are interconnected. She found that the network of regions in the temporal and parietal regions of the brain associated with imagination overlap with those that govern memory. This means that when dementia causes damage to memory, it also disrupts a person’s ability to envision the future.
Muireann says that if patients cannot project forward, they may be unable to consider the outcomes of their actions, like forgetting to take their medication. “There’s still so much we don’t know about the brain,” she says. “I feel privileged to be contributing new knowledge.”
“Research can be applied in a creative but practical way.”
2013-present Research Fellow, (ARC DECRA), UNSW Australia, Sydney
2010–2013 Postdoctoral Research Fellow, NeuRA, Sydney, Australia
2008 Statistical Analyst, Analytic Partners Ltd., Dublin
2004–2008 PhD in Cognitive Neuropsychology, Trinity College, Dublin
1999–2003 Bachelor degree in Psychology (1st Class Honours), Trinity College, Dublin