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5 May 2021

New study uses CANTAB to differentiate typical and pathological ageing

Find out more about how María Campos Magdaleno, PhD of Universidade de Santiago de Compostela is using CANTAB to investigate cognitive changes in typical and pathological ageing.

The NeuroCogA-Aging research group.

The research group of Applied Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychogerontology (NeuroCogA-Aging) includes professors and researchers from the departments of Developmental Psychology and Clinical Psychology at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain).

The prediction of dementia (especially that due to Alzheimer's disease) in healthy aging, Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD) and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) constitutes the group's main line of research.

Members of the Psychogerontology section are Onésimo Juncos-Rabadán (Professor), Arturo X. Pereiro and David Facal (Associate Professors); Cristina Lojo-Seoane, María Campos-Magdaleno (Assistant Professors), and Sabela C. Mallo (Lecturer), Ana Nieto-Vieites, Alba Felpete-López and Lucía Pérez-Blanco (PhD students).

Tell us a little about the background and methods of your research.

Our work is focused on the study of aging, and our studies implement longitudinal designs (cohorts from the Compostela Aging Study; CompAS). Currently two waves of participants over the age of 50 have been evaluated at baseline, with 878 in the first wave and 505 in the second. The majority of participants have completed at least two follow-up assessments, with some having been evaluated up to four times, at 18-24 months intervals. This allows us to study the incidence of MCI in the general population, and to determine which measures (e.g., memory, attention, language, subjective cognitive complaints, behavioral and affective symptoms, cognitive reserve, everyday activities) can predict stability or change in cognitive performance over time and conversion to dementia.

Why did you choose CANTAB?

CANTAB provided us with the visual memory and attentional measures for the study. This computerized battery has a flexible and simple interface which allows us to conveniently adapt the programming of the evaluation sessions for participant groups. CANTAB also provides useful measures of reaction time, precision, and other aspects of the performance that are easily exportable.

Furthermore, measures of short-term visual and episodic memory tasks (i.e., Delayed Matching to Sample (DMS), Paired Associates Learning (PAL)) were shown to be important markers of the amnesic MCI subtype in our investigation.

CANTAB offers automated delivery and cloud data storage, which makes it easy to obtain and collate a large number of performance indicators from each test in a single database. Furthermore, the computerized format is a useful component when completing a large number of neuropsychological evaluations, as the tests are more attractive and motivating than traditional pencil and paper assessments.

Can you summarise your principal results and their implications?

The principal finding from our study with CANTAB was obtained using cross-sectional data. Variables from the Reaction Time (RTI), Pattern Recognition Memory (PRM), Delayed Matching to Sample (DMS) and Paired Associates Learning (PAL) tasks were able to distinguish control participants from those with MCI. These results suggest that some CANTAB measures can be considered a good instrument to use in MCI identification (2).

We corroborated CANTAB’s capacity to differentiate controls and MCI subjects by implementing a longitudinal design with larger samples (1,3). We found that some visual episodic memory tasks (PRM, DMS, and PAL) can be used to discriminate controls from the amnestic MCI subgroup (4). These participants are characterized by greater memory impairments and were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Using longitudinal data, we found different patterns of performance in a number of CANTAB measures (PAL, DSM, PRM and SSP) depending on the diagnostic status: those who remained stable (in normal cognitive performance or impairment) and those with MCI who deteriorated over time. Results point towards CANTAB as a useful tool for differentiating between different stages in the cognitive continuum of dementia, with a good predictive capacity (1). PAL scores also successfully predicted future cognitive decline or stability, and differences were already found at baseline between participants who remained stable and those who worsened over time. 

Do you have any future research planned?

NeuroCogA-Aging group will continue this research with a new cohort (CompAS-2) where some biomarkers (e.g., neuroimaging, genetics, Aβ, Tau) are considered. We are also conducting a RCT study to analyze the effect of computerized cognitive training with transcranial electrical stimulation in participants with SCD and MCI. We expect improvements in the performance of the CANTAB Multitasking Test (MTT) and Stop Signal Task (SST) tasks for the training groups compared to the active control group.


1. Campos-Magdaleno, M., Leiva, D., Pereiro, A. X., Lojo-Seoane, C., Mallo, S. C., Facal, D., & Juncos-Rabadán, O. (2020). Changes in visual memory in mild cognitive impariment: a longitudinal study with CANTAB. Psychological Medicine, 7, 1-11.

2. Facal, D., Rodríguez, N., Juncos-Rabadán, O., Caamaño, J. M., & Sueiro, J. (2009). Utilización del CANTAB para el diagnóstico del deterioro cognitivo leve. Un estudio piloto con una muestra española. Revista Española de Geriatría y Gerontología, 44(2), 79-84.

3. Juncos-Rabadán, O., Pereiro, A. X., Facal, D., Reboredo, A., & Lojo-Seoane, A. (2013). Do the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery episodic memory measures discriminate amnestic mild cognitive impairment? International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 29(6), 602-609.

4. Juncos-Rabadán, O., Facal, D., Pereiro, A.X. & Lojo-Seoane, C. (2014). Visual memory profiling with CANTAB in Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) subtypes. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 29, 1040-1048.

Tags : cantab | cantab testimonial | cognition | cognitive testing | cognitive science | alzheimer's disease | dms | pal | rti | prm

Author portrait

María Campos Magdaleno, PhD - Universidade de Santiago de Compostela