Dr. Zahra Moussavi

Dr. Zahra Moussavi, a professor at the Biomedical Engineering Program of the University of Manitoba, was focusing her research on diagnosis of respiratory disorders, when cognitive changes in mother started to occur.

It took Dr. Moussavi four years to have her worst fears confirmed. Her mother was diagnosed with having Alzheimer's disease. This diagnosis started Dr. Moussavi down a different path.
"I have learned a lot from watching my mother struggle with Alzheimer's," she says. "I learned how to look for the early signs."

Dr. Moussavi has come up with a number of tests to detect dementia at very early stages. She and her team have designed a virtual house where the participant is asked to find a room inside the house, using a cue that is seen from outside the house. The participant tries to find the target room by manoeuvring through the house using a wheelchair (which replaces a joystick).

Dr. Moussavi and her students have tested three age groups; children aged 7-12, adults and seniors aged 65 plus. She has been investigating the performance error and accuracy for each group.

She now plans to replace the wheelchair with a goggle that wirelessly displays the virtual house, thus the participants indeed will walk in a virtual reality. This way the virtual reality will be more naturalistic.  

Another research area for Dr. Moussavi is designing specific memory exercises, targeting the capabilities that are weakened by age. She engaged fourteen individuals, including two suspected of Alzheimer’s, between ages 70-90 years for a memory exercise regime of eight weeks. The participants’ memory was assessed before and after the exercise regime. Twelve of the subjects showed significant improvement. The two suspected of Alzheimer's showed some improvement.

"We assessed all of the participants again one month later. The healthy ones kept their improved state, even without doing the exercises for a month, while the two suspected of Alzheimer’s declined significantly,” she says.
The fact that the two participants suspected of Alzheimer’s were improving, or at least not declining, while engaging in the exercises, is very encouraging.

Dr. Moussavi dreams of opening a school for senior aged-adults, to allow them to age with a healthy brain. Classes would include music therapy, art, physical activities, memory exercises and sciences. Dr. Moussavi says she would honour her mother by naming the school after her.

Virtual house demonstration

Memory excercises

Battling with Alzheimer's disease: Zahra Moussavi at TEDxWinnipeg

How to Age with a Healthy Brain | Zahra Moussavi | TEDxUManitoba

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