Tracking the brain health of retired pro hockey players

“There has been a lot of attention on repeated concussions and neurodegenerative disease, particularly in post-mortem samples of ex-athletes, but there is a need for more comprehensive assessment of mental and behavioral changes during life. This longitudinal study will allow us to track changes over time to better understand aging and brain health in retired professional athletes.”

-Dr. Brian Levine, neuropsychologist and senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute

Researchers at Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute have reported the most comprehensive neuropsychological study of retired professional ice hockey players to date.

They found that the alumni involved in the study, most of whom played in the NHL, were free from significant brain impairment on objective testing. Yet the players reported a high level of emotional, behavioural and cognitive challenges on questionnaires rating subjective complaints.

The ongoing study led by Dr. Brian Levine focuses on retired professional ice hockey players’ cognitive and behavioural functioning in relation to their age, concussion history, and genetic risk. Find out more about the study’s findings and next steps.


Cogniciti plays central role in pharma’s fight against dementia

“Cogniciti’s online brain health assessment offers Baycrest the chance to play a central role in the development of the next generation of Alzheimer’s disease treatment. Finding the right research volunteers for studies has been a major problem. Through Cogniciti, users can now join a Research Registry designed to use their test results to match interested volunteers to the right studies.”

                                                                    -Michael Meagher, President and CEO of Cogniciti

The free, scientifically-validated test, developed by Rotman Research Institute scientists, can help adults 40+ determine if their memory changes should be evaluated by a doctor.

Over the past year, Cogniciti has signed agreements to recruit for two global drug studies and two non-drug studies at the Rotman Research Institute, all focused on therapies designed to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Since its launch in 2013, more than 55,000 assessments were completed.

Take Cogniciti’s free online Brain Health Assessment or join the Research Registry at



A Canadian first: community-based affordable hearing care

“Our program is tailored to serve older adults with unmanaged hearing loss and consists of education and counselling around hearing and communication combined with low-cost, over-the-counter hearing devices. Only 20 per cent of those with hearing loss use hearing aids and this program will help those who have not previously sought help or who have difficulty accessing the current system.”

-Marilyn Reed, Practice Advisor for Audiology, Baycrest Health Sciences

The Toronto HEARS (Hearing Equality through Accessible Research and Solutions) project is the first Canadian community-based, low-cost, hearing rehabilitation program of its kind that will provide older adults easier access to affordable hearing care in their community.

Hearing loss is the third most common disability among older adults and is associated with declines in cognitive, physical and mental health. The average period between identifying hearing loss and seeking help is 10 years.

Baycrest’s Audiology department is partnering with community centres across Toronto to deliver and test the feasibility of Toronto HEARS, a program developed at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. The project aims to improve communication, social engagement and quality of life for seniors with hearing loss.

This program was generously funded by the Canadian Centre for Brain Health Innovation (CC-ABHI).


Funding helps Baycrest scientists pursue new brain health research

Funding from donors and grant agencies aids our scientists in pursuing innovative research projects to improve understanding of the brain and develop interventions for healthy aging.

Scientists received generous support from many donors this past year including Leonard and Micki Moore Simpson, the Rotman family, Barrie Rose and Karen Solomon and family, Robert and Mona Sherkin, the Tanenbaum family and the estate of David Durbin.

Below are a few of the grants received by our researchers and the projects supported this past year.

  • Dr. Jean Chen received support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop non-invasive brain-imaging techniques tailored towards older adults. These are expected to alert doctors earlier to a person’s risk of developing certain brain diseases.
  • Dr. Brian Levine received support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to examine how differences in memory ability might relate to memory changes during aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Dr. Deirdre Dawson received support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention that could help older adults preserve their independence for longer.
  • Dr. Brian Levine received support from the Heart and Stroke Foundation to convert his rehabilitation program into a web-based training program that can be delivered remotely to stroke patients.
  • Dr. Jed Meltzer received support from the Heart and Stroke Foundation to test the effectiveness of brain stimulation on stroke patients. This will will help in the development of a quick evaluation of a variety of interventions, such as drugs, brain stimulation and therapy.
  • Dr. Raquel Meyer and Jennifer Reguindin received support from the Canadian Centre for Brain Health and Aging (CC-ABHI) to help healthcare workers better learn to detect and communicate acute deterioration in older adults with dementia. Their SOS gamified educational app is one element in a multipronged approach to help avoid or reduce unnecessary emergency department visits. Seed funding was generously provided by Glenn and Tracie Graff, SIM-One and the Government of Ontario.
  • Dr. Kelly Murphy received support from the Canadian Centre for Brain Health and Aging (CC-ABHI) to improve access and educate healthcare professionals around the world on Baycrest’s Learning the Ropes program. This program helps patients with mild cognitive impairment optimize their cognitive health.

Scientists recognized for excellence nationally and internationally

Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) is home to world-renowned scientists who discover and explore potential predictors and targeted interventions for neurodegenerative diseases.

Below is a list of scientists who were recognized for their contributions this past year:


Scientists discover link between what we see and how…

“It seems counterintuitive to use the eyes to screen for memory problems, but these systems are so nicely coupled that it makes sense to use eye-tracking to evaluate memory. Our neuroimaging and eye-tracking study demonstrates there could be a cyclical relationship between the eyes and memory that continually feeds information back and forth.”

– Dr. Jennifer Ryan, senior investigator on the study and senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute (RRI).

Baycrest researchers have uncovered an important link between eye movements and the brain’s memory system that bolsters the case for using eye-tracking technology to evaluate memory problems and aid in earlier detection of dementia.

This is the first time researchers have used neuroimaging to show a direct functional connection between the oculomotor network (the brain system controlling the eye’s movements) and the brain’s hippocampus (a structure in the brain crucial to creating memories) in healthy adults.

This work supports their development of an eye-tracking cognitive assessment that could one day help doctors evaluate cognitive decline in clients. Find out more about their recent findings here.


New communication test provides early indicator of dementia

“Our discovery demonstrates changes in the brain regions that process speech into understandable words occur early on. This finding could be the first sign of decline in communication-related brain function and the research technique used in the study could lead to the development of a cost-effective and objective dementia screening test for older adults.”

– Dr. Claude Alain, the study’s senior author and senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI)

Their research technique was able to predict Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a condition that is likely to develop into Alzheimer’s, with 80 per cent accuracy. Based on this, the researchers hope to explore the development a portable, reliable and easy-to-use alternate diagnostic test for MCI.

Read more about the study’s findings here.


Groundbreaking work predicts how epilepsy seizures start

“The Virtual Brain has been used to demonstrate epilepsy’s impact on an individual’s brain. Through the research, we can predict how epileptic seizures start and spread within the brain, which could help doctors identify where to intervene during surgery, reducing the risk of adverse events.”

-Dr. Randy McIntosh, co-founder of The Virtual Brain, Vice President of Research at Baycrest and Director of the Rotman Research Institute (RRI)

The Virtual Brain, an international brain-mapping platform co-created by Baycrest, is one step closer to being used by doctors to provide personalized treatments based on brain simulations.

Baycrest aims to create similar simulations that predict the start and spread of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. They are also exploring potential partnership opportunities to improve the platform’s accessibility among physicians and bring it into clinical care.

The Virtual Brain is supported by generous gifts from Maxz’l and Gianna Glassman and the Zwig Family Foundation.

Find out more about the Virtual Brain’s latest breakthrough here.


First clinically-validated, online brain health workshop

“Normal age-related memory decline can be a source of worry and frustration for many older adults. Baycrest’s Memory and Aging Program is one of the few brain health workshops for healthy older adults around the world that helps seniors take control of their memory change experience and optimize their brain health. The online Memory and Aging Program workshop will allow us to share Baycrest’s expertise to anyone with an Internet connection.”

-Dr. Susan Vandermorris, Baycrest clinical neuropsychologist and lead for the Memory and Aging Program

For more than 20 years, Baycrest’s Memory and Aging Program has helped more than 1,000 healthy older adults. It is among the few clinically-validated, gold standard brain health workshops across the globe and it will offer an evidence-based, brain-training product that has a long track record of scientific excellence.

In 2016, the Memory and Aging Program worked closely with e-learning experts, designers and program users to design an interactive, informative and practical e-learning experience.

With support from the Canadian Centre for Aging & Brain Health Innovation (CC-ABHI), the program is currently being tested by older adults across Canada and is expected to be validated and widely distributed this year.


Uncovering the impact of volunteer visits on thinking skills

“What I’ve learned is that each day is a day in itself, one day is different from the other. You can’t expect the residents to remember you from one day from the next but when you see that smile that they somewhat remember you or that they’re happy to see you, it really makes it worth it.”

-Sabrina Teles, volunteer with Baycrest’s PLEASE program (a person-centred care program)

Baycrest scientists and clinicians are teaming up with long-term care homes across Toronto to explore how volunteer visits could help older adults with dementia preserve or improve their thinking abilities. This work could help long-term care homes incorporate a cost-effective program to improve care for residents with dementia and create new roles for volunteers working with older adults.

More than half of long-term care home residents in Ontario have dementia and impairments to residents’ thinking abilities impact their overall health and quality of life. This project received support from The Retired Teachers of Ontario Foundation. Find out more about this work.