13 Oct 2020
Dr Inga Mehrani is currently a project manager for one of the three main initiatives within the Australian Dementia Network - the Memory Clinics initiative (ADNeT-MC). The project aims to harmonise diagnostic assessment standards and post-diagnostic pathways to provide a best practice framework for healthcare practitioners and reassure patients and carers that they receive a high-quality dementia diagnosis across Australian Memory Clinics.
How did you get into researching the ageing brain?
I am a Speech Pathologist by training and completed my training in Germany. The system there focuses on the professional training and clinical work, with - in most cases - little academic training and no University affiliation. Due to placements in neurological rehabilitation clinics and stroke units, I developed a keen interest in this area and subsequently became involved in research projects. As such, I decided to complement my vocational training with a university degree to see if research was something that interested me. It worked out. A specialised course on neurodegenerative language disorders sparked my research interest in the ageing brain and so I consequently pursued this field.
Did you experience a ‘defining moment’ which led you to this field?
I think my ‘defining moment’ had a lot to do with the patients I met during my clinical placements on rehabilitation wards for people with neurological language impairments. Here, I learned about the many complex and variable cognitive difficulties that can arise from brain damage. For example, I came across people who knew exactly what they wanted to say but would suddenly mix up words, or found that they were unable to produce the correct sounds that form a particular word. Obviously, this was quite frustrating for many of them. However, I was also introduced to others who, despite their speech being hardly intelligible, seemed happy and confident that they said exactly what they wanted to say. Symptoms like this were fascinating to me and I wanted to know more about cognition and how it can be affected by brain damage.
Do you have any personal interests or activities which are protective behaviours against cognitive decline?
I should do more knowing what I know. I recently piloted a dementia risk reduction questionnaire for our project and was told that I should eat more fish and exercise more. The report is probably right. I enjoy hikes and particularly coastal walks in Australia, but do not often take the time to do this. Otherwise, I really enjoy sitting down with a good coffee or tea and reading a book or newspapers, which potentially provides some protective benefit against cognitive decline.
What are you currently researching?
I am the project manager for the Australian Dementia Network Memory Clinic initiative, which is part of a bigger NHMRC funded national project. We aim to provide support for clinicians in Australia who specialise in diagnosing dementia and connect them within a national Memory Clinic network. We further aim to streamline diagnostic and post-diagnostic processes, for example, by developing national clinical practice guidelines for Memory Clinics. We hope this will help clinicians to provide high-quality and evidence-based care and further improve the diagnostic experience of people with cognitive decline across Australia.
Why is your research important?
Being diagnosed with dementia is life changing. During my clinical work I met many people with less common types of dementia who knew that something was wrong with them, but it took them several years to get a clear diagnosis. They - or their general practitioners - have not been aware of or able to access specialised Memory Clinic services that may have helped them much sooner.
In the best of cases, the Memory Clinic initiative helps to connect Memory Clinic clinicians, primary care clinicians and people with cognitive decline and improves diagnostic standards as well as the accessibility of high-quality, specialised assessment services for people who need it.
Ideally, it will no longer be just for people that are lucky enough to be near a metropolitan centre that offers amazing services and has access to the latest technologies but also helps more regional clinics to be equipped and prepared to offer the latest evidence-based assessment.
CHeBA has a very diverse group of people with clinical and research expertise in different disciplines. We are all working on similar topics but look at it from very different angles, which is really inspiring and broadens your mind. You get a different perspective and learn new things that you can use in your own research work. The CHeBA team is very supportive. You can contact anyone and for example ask: “Did you encounter this problem before?” and they immediately try to help you. This is really great.
What is the ultimate hope you have for your research?
To find a way to support people with dementia and their care partners in the best possible way and for as long as continue to be without a treatment that can cure dementia, find a way to significantly slow the progression of the disease or prevent dementia. I think what currently often happens is that people receive a diagnosis and then don’t really know what to do.
We hope to give everyone a pathway to follow, to feel supported and acquire the help they need to cope with the diagnosis and remain positive.
This interview was undertaken during the COVID-19 self-isolation period. Dr Inga Mehrani found that having video calls with her family and friends supported her mental resilience and kept her feeling socially connected while physically isolated.
Dr Inga Mehrani is currently the Project Manager for the NHMRC funded Australian Dementia Network (ADNeT) Memory Clinics initiative. She is working with ADNeT to establish a collaborative Memory Clinic network and to harmonise diagnostic assessment standards across Australia’s Memory Clinics to ensure that all Australians have access to high-quality dementia assessments, regardless of their geographical location and socio-economic situation. Inga is a trained Speech Pathologist and has a keen research interest in the diagnosis and treatment for individuals with stroke induced and neurodegenerative language impairments. Inga completed her PhD in Cognitive Science as part of the International Doctorate for Experimental Approaches to Language and Brain at both Macquarie University and the University of Groningen, Netherlands.