Professor Elizabeth Warrington is a true trailblazer in dementia research with her work leading to several new discoveries in the field including the identification of a new dementia - semantic dementia - in 1975. Now retired, Elizabeth continues to be an honorary member of the UCL Dementia Research Centre, sharing her knowledge with scientists and artists in the field.
Please tell us about some of the work you have done to support, improve and contribute to the lives of, people with dementias?
I was a neuropsychologist who studied memory, dementia and the neural networks that underpin our cognitive abilities. My work led to the creation of many tests for the diagnosis and monitoring of a number of degenerative brain conditions. My work on memory, and the difference between how we remember knowledge and events, led to the identification of semantic dementia in 1975.
In addition, my research into memory has contributed to the identification of implicit memory - the unconscious memory of past experiences, which helps us to perform tasks. I was also amongst the first to distinguish short- and long-term memory as being distinct processes.
I am grateful to have received awards in recognition of my work, including honorary doctorates from the University of Bologna in 1998 and the University of York in 1999. In addition, the British Neuropsychological Society named their outstanding early-career research award the Elizabeth Warrington Prize in my honour.
More recently, I have been working with artists to see how the arts might inform testing for dementia, which has been very interesting.
What was your motivation for getting involved in the field of dementia?
In the mid-90s, I was in charge of the Department of Clinical Neuropsychology at the National Hospital and dementia was becoming of increasing interest. My department was always interested in the diagnosis of dementia and my colleague was one of the first to publish a fairly accurate way to diagnose dementia before onset.
The patients we had access to were all extremely interesting and very useful in advancing research projects.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement or highlight?
That would have to be when I put on record 3 patients described as having a semantic dementia.
Well I’m well into my retirement and cutting back on my work now rather than taking more on, though I hope I have shared my learning and knowledge with others so they can develop their own research.
If you could change one thing now to improve the lives of people living with dementia, what would it be?
That’s easy- I would put more funding into research at a physiological and molecular level to try and find a cure. It’s a horrible disease and the sooner they find a cure, the better.