Dr. Ruchika Prakash
Professor, Clinical Area
139 Psychology Building
1835 Neil Avenue
My research interests broadly focus on understanding neuroplasticity in the context of healthy aging and neurological disorders, specifically multiple sclerosis, and applying the knowledge gained through research in basic sciences to design interventions that tap into such neuroplasticity. Following this overarching goal, my research follows two inter-related paths. Firstly, from a basic science perspective, I am interested in understanding the behavioral and neural correlates of cognitive dysfunction in aging and MS. In here, I have conducted some studies, which suggest that the differential brain activation patterns seen in response to cerebral challenge (such as aging or a neurodegenerative disorder) has important functional ramifications, which needs to be examined in the context of the cognitive task being investigated. Continuing this line of work, I am now incorporating diffusion tensor imaging into my research to understand how anatomical connectivity of gray matter regions might influence functional activations.
Capitalizing on this basic science research, I am interested in conducting intervention studies that will help reduce the cognitive deficits seen as a result of the cerebral challenge and improve overall quality of life. In here, I have, firstly, looked at the role of aerobic fitness in mitigating both age-related and MS-related cognitive decline. In collaboration with researchers at University of Illinois, I am currently working on a one-year fitness intervention study, where we systematically examine the effects of an exercise intervention on cognitive and neural functioning of healthy older adults. Recently, I have also examined the association between fitness and improved cognitive functioning of those with MS and results suggest a positive relation between aerobic fitness and cognitive functioning in this group.
Continuing with this line of research, I am also looking at the association between mindfulness and cognitive functioning of older adults. Some preliminary results suggest that older adults, who are more mindful and aware at the present moment, also have faster processing speed abilities and higher working memory capacity. This fall quarter, I will be conducting mindfulness training for older adults to examine the efficacy of such an intervention to mitigate age-related cognitive decline.