Highlights from Cooper Conference 2023

On November 3rd, 2023, the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology hosted the Annual Cooper Conference titled Interpersonal Neurology: Communication Disorders Across the Lifespan. This conference delved into the intricacies of communication disorders, elucidating their neurobiological underpinnings and clinical manifestations throughout various stages of life. This blog post highlights a few presentations from the conference.

“Communication Challenges in Frontotemporal Dementia” by Dr. Joie Molden, PhD

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) encompasses diverse clinical syndromes, with the primary focus on the Primary Progressive Aphasias (PPAs), including nonfluent/agrammatic PPA (nfvPPA), semantic variant PPA (svPPA), and the behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD), all stemming from Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD). PPAs, characterized by a predominant language shift within the initial two years, exclude alternative conditions and lack early behavioral, visuospatial, or memory dysfunction. In nfvPPA, individuals experience agrammatism and halting speech, indicative of left brain atrophy affecting speech and grammar regions. SvPPA presents challenges in naming words, loss of semantic knowledge, and bilateral anterior temporal damage. BvFTD, marked by behavioral and cognitive issues, showcases specific neuroanatomical changes related to disinhibition, apathy, and empathy. A recently introduced variant, semantic behavioral variant FTD (sbvFTD), also known as the emotional variant, was discussed in a recently submitted paper (currently in press) featuring a novel genetic finding. While there are currently no cures, various symptom management options, such as education and speech therapy, play a crucial role in providing support and improving the quality of life for individuals facing FTLD syndromes and their caregivers. Understanding these syndromes is vital for fostering empathy and effective caregiving.

“White Matter and its Influence on Social Communication” by Dr. Christoper Filley, MD

Research historically prioritized cognitive aspects, neglecting emotions and social functioning. Social cognition, comprising emotion perception, mentalizing, and empathy, profoundly shapes interactions and is impacted by most brain disorders. Social communication hinges on social cognition, and the evolution of the brain to mediate it aligns with the social brain hypothesis. This hypothesis posits that a large brain evolved to meet social demands and cooperation in groups, influencing behavior. White matter, often overlooked, is vital for complex social functioning, with disorders in this area impairing social cognition. Prosody, enhancing language with emotion, involves both white and gray matter. Language, possibly a specialized form of social cognition, correlates with white matter expansion and myelination in early development. This ontogenetic perspective suggests humans were friendly before intelligent, highlighting the intricate relationship between social cognition, language, and brain development.

“Caregiver Communication Training” by Jill Lorentz

Working directly in homes, Jill emphasizes the importance of connecting emotionally with patients, as those with dementia often experience feelings from stimuli in the previous 30 minutes. Caregiver support sets the emotional tone, crucial for individuals with dementia who may withdraw as a coping mechanism. Understanding their emotional state is key, especially when dealing with common challenges like apathy, losing or hiding items, repeating questions, repetitious actions, and clinging. Apathy is seen as a coping strategy, requiring a patient and purposeful approach. Strategies for handling lost items include maintaining a tidy environment, and patience is advised when facing repetitive questions, focusing on creating a stress-free environment. Repetitive behaviors are addressed by identifying triggers and using tactile responses. Clinging is understood as seeking safety, and various sensory strategies, timers, and care plans can be employed to foster a secure environment. When faced with complaints or insults, avoiding arguments and recognizing potential misinterpretations due to the disease’s progression is crucial. Summit Resiliency offers free classes at a memory disorders clinic monthly and can be reached at 303-420-6988 for further assistance.

The Cooper Conference 2023 was a tremendous success and we thank all of the speakers, attendees and staff who made this event possible! Know that this blog post is only a small selection of the great talks and a recording will soon be made available for those who wish to see the presentations.

We hope to see you next year!

Written with assistance from ChatGPT-4.