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Cognition and Communication

Stroke and degenerative brain disorders affect the ability of people to think, remember, and control their actions. These problems become more common in old age, and as the average life expectancy increases, they will become a growing problem in the provision of appropriate health care. Through SPARC, new technologies and scientific methods are being developed to study how the brain ages, and how sensory and cognitive skills change with age. The SPARC projects are particularly concerned with listening, comprehending and speaking.

Zoe Kourtzi

In search of biomarkers for cognitive ageing in the human brain

Professor Zoe Kourtzi, Birmingham University
12 months, £29,961
Poster: Cognitive Ageing
Keywords: Brain Imaging, Machine Learning, Visual Perception, Learning

We aim to develop new tools for cognitive ageing research by combining methods from mathematics, computer science, psychology, and neuroscience. In particular, we will combine advanced mathematical approaches (i.e. machine learning) for the analysis of biological data (behavioural performance, functional brain activations) with multimodal brain imaging techniques (structural MR, functional MRI, EEG) and behavioural methods. This integration of advanced measurement and analysis methods will allow us to develop new sensitive tools for studying the variability of cognitive ageing across individuals from rapid decline to sustained high levels of performance. Our methods and findings will provide new insights in understanding life-long learning and cortical plasticity and will be potentially useful for early diagnosis and intervention in normal and pathological ageing.

Lorraine Tyler

Investigating the neural underpinnings of word-finding problems across the lifespan

Professor Lorraine Tyler, Cambridge University
12 months, £40,022
Poster: Where’s that Name?
Executive Summary: Where’s that Word? Word finding problems in older age

Keywords: Word Retrieval, Neuroimaging, Memory and Language, Lifespan

Aging involves a gradual loss of neural tissue (atrophy), and atrophy in a particular brain region can affect abilities that depend on that region. Although some abilities decline on average in old age, some older adults maintain good performance. The key to this “successful” ageing may be the brain's ability to flexibly find alternative ways to perform a task that overcome the effects of atrophy – a process called “neural compensation”. This study examines neural compensation in speaking and listening to language. We choose to examine language because while some aspects of language decline with age (such as remembering people's names), not all older adults have problems, with some performing as well as younger adults. This study will use a combination of brain imaging techniques for measuring brain atrophy and activity to reveal whether older adults with preserved language abilities also show evidence of neural compensation.

Maria Klara Wolters

What makes synthetic speech difficult to understand for older people? The contribution of auditory ageing

Dr Maria Klara Wolters, Edinburgh University
6 months, £17,775
Poster: Auditory Ageing
Executive Summary: What Makes Synthetic Speech Difficult for Older People to Understand?

Keywords: Speech Perception, Speech Synthesis, Audiology, Inclusive Design

Spoken messages can make home-care systems more efficient, effective, and friendly. However, auditory ageing can make it difficult to understand these messages, especially if they have been produced by a speech synthesiser. In this project, we examine which aspects of auditory ageing contribute most to older listeners? problems with synthetic speech. The results will be crucial for developing pleasant, highly intelligible synthetic voices for older listeners.


SPARC & KT-EQUAL Workshops

Please refer to the KT-EQUAL website for forthcoming workshops.

Latest Executive Summaries and Monographs

Please refer to the KT-EQUAL website for recently issued monographs.


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Please refer to the KT-EQUAL website for the current membership form.

The SPARC Story

Welcome to SPARC and KT-EQUAL: Knowledge Transfer for Extending Quality Life

SPARC brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers in ageing. It specialises in communicating the latest design, engineering and biological ageing-related research to all stakeholders, making the case about the benefits for an ageing population of scientific research, and it encourages new blood into ageing research. Although funding for SPARC ended in December 2008, SPARC is continuing to function from the University of Reading within a new initiative - KT-EQUAL which commenced in January 2009. Soon KT-EQUAL will have its own website but for the time being news and information about SPARC and KT-EQUAL events are being handled by the SPARC website.

SPARC Mission Statement

Supporting Older People by
Putting Research into Practice and
Actively Promoting Needs and Solutions through
Research Leadership and


BBSRC - Biotechnological and Biological Sciences Research Council EPSRC - Engineering and Phsyical Sciences Research Council