Trinity College Dublin

Skip to main content.

Top Level TCD Links

Sabina Brennan
Research Assistant Professor, Trinity Inst. of Neurosciences (TCIN)
Research Assistant Professor, Psychology

Biography

Sabina Brennan is a principal invvestigator at the Institute of Neuroscience and a research assistant profess (School of Psychology). She is co-director of the NEIL Research Programme and director of the NEIL Memory Research Unit which profiles cognitive function in a cohort of ~1000 Irish adults aged 50 and over. Understanding differential decline in cognitive ageing and dementia, cognitive reserve, brain health, modifiable risk and protective factors and the development of interventions to prevent or delay the onset of decline, She coordinated ASAPS, an FP7 Project under the 2012-HEALTH-2012 which promoted brain health and brain research outputs of this project include a website (www.hellobrain.eu) a series of films and a brain health app She is principal Investigator on a US funded 2-year project aimed at assessing the Impact of relationship-based mealtime intervention on quality of life, cognitive function, social connection, mood, BMI, and walking speed. She is also a principle investigator on a 3-year cohort study, DeStress looking at Cognitive function, caregiver stress and cortisol: Mechanisms and implications for prevention of adverse health consequences in spouse dementia caregivers. funded by the Medical Research Charities Group and the Health Research Board. She is Principle Investigator on a project that developed a series of 10 films (www.freedliving.com) aimed at addressing fears about memory loss and dementia. She is currently co-supervisor of PhD study "An Investigation of the Protective Effect of Cognitive Reserve against Cognitive Impairment" funded under IRCHSS and a second PhD, looking at the relationship between caregiver stress and frailty and indecies of cognitive decline, funded under the new IRC Enterprise Partnership scheme. Her own PhD thesis entitled 'Neurocognitive and Electrophysiological Indices of Cognitive Performance in Ageing' explored individual differences in cognitive performance in healthy elderly and aimed to identify neurocognitive and electrophysiological markers that index cognitive decline. As part of the TCIN-GSK Neurodegeneration Programme she was responsible for a research project aimed at identifying novel cognitive, electrophysiological and behavioural endpoints in human participants that offer greater sensitivity to age-induced cognitive changes than previous endpoints.

Publications and Further Research Outputs

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Pertl, M.M., Hannigan, C., Brennan, S., Robertson I.H., Lawlor, B.A., Cognitive reserve and self-efficacy as moderators of the effect of stress exposure on executive functioning among spousal dementia caregivers, International Journal of Psychogeriatrics. , DOI: https://doi.org, 2017 Journal Article, 2017 DOI

Power J., Lee O., Aspell N., McCormack E., Loftus M., Connolly L., Lawlor B., Brennan S., RelAte: Pilot study of the effects of a mealtime intervention on social cognitive factors and energy intake among older adults living alone, British Journal of Nutrition, 116, (9), 2016, p1573-1581 Journal Article, 2016 DOI

Hannigan C, Coen RF, Lawlor BA, Robertson IH, Brennan S, The NEIL Memory Research Unit: psychosocial, biological, physiological and lifestyle factors associated with healthy ageing: study protocol., BMC psychology, 3, (1), 2015, p20 Journal Article, 2015 URL

McHugh, J.E., Lee, O., Lawlor, B.A. and Brennan, S. , The meaning of mealtimes: social and nutritional needs identified among older adults attending day services and by healthcare professionals., International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,, 30, (3), 2015, p325 - 329 Journal Article, 2015

Pertl MM, Lawlor BA, Robertson IH, Walsh C, Brennan S, Risk of Cognitive and Functional Impairment in Spouses of People With Dementia: Evidence From the Health and Retirement Study., Journal of geriatric psychiatry and neurology, 28, (4), 2015, p260-71 Journal Article, 2015

McHugh, J.E., Lee, O., Aspell, N., Lawlor, B.A. and Brennan, S.,, A shared mealtime approach to improving social and nutritional functioning among older adults living alone (RelAte: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial, JMIR Research Protocols JMIR Res Protoc., 4, (2), 2015 Journal Article, 2015

Kelly, Michelle E. Loughrey, David Lawlor, Brian A. Robertson, Ian H. Walsh, Cathal Brennan, Sabina, The Impact of Cognitive Training and Mental Stimulation on Cognitive and Everyday Functioning of Healthy Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Ageing Research Reviews, 2014 Journal Article, 2014 TARA - Full Text DOI

Kelly,M., Loughrey, D., Lawlor, B A., Robertson, I H., Brennan, S, The impact of exercise on the cognitive functioning of healthy older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Ageing research reviews, 16, 2014, p12 - 31 Journal Article, 2014

Elisa Di Rosa, Caoimhe Hannigan, Sabina Brennan, Richard Reilly, Viliam Rapcan, Ian H Robertson, Reliability and validity of the Automatic Cognitive Assessment Delivery (ACAD), Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 6, (34), 2014 Journal Article, 2014

Laura P. McAvinue*, Mara Golemme, Marco Castorina, ElisaTatti , Francesca M. Pigni , Simona Salomone, Sabina Brennan and Ian H. Robertson, An evaluation of a working memory training scheme in older adults, frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 5, (20), 2013, p1 - 11 Journal Article, 2013 DOI

Eric J. Downer, Raasay S. Jones, Claire L. McDonald, Eleonora Greco, Sabina Brennan, Thomas J. Connor, Ian H. Robertson, Marina A. Lynch, Identifying Early Inflammatory Changes in Monocyte-Derived Macrophages from a Population with IQ-Discrepant Episodic Memory, Plos One, 8, (5), 2013, ppe63194 Journal Article, 2013 TARA - Full Text DOI

Downer EJ, Jones RS, McDonald CL, Greco E, Brennan S, Connor TJ, Robertson IH, & Lynch MA, Identifying early inflammatory changes in monocyte-derived macrophages from a population with IQ-discrepant episodic memory, PloS one, 8, (5), 2013, pe63194 Journal Article, 2013 DOI

Balsters, J.H., O'Connell, R.G., Martin, M.P., Galli, A., Cassidy, S.M., Kilcullen, S.M., Delmonte, S., Brennan, S., Meaney, J.F., Fagan, A.J., Bodke, A., Upton, N., Lai, R., Laurelle, M., Lawlor, B.L. and Robertson, I.H., Donepezil impairs memory in healthy older subjects: Behavioural, EEG and simultaneous EEG/fMRI biomarkers., Organisation for Human Brain Mapping Abstracts., Organisation for Human Brain Mapping, 2012, 2012 Meeting Abstract, 2012

Joshua H. Balsters, Redmond G. O'Connell, Mary P. Martin, Alessandra Galli, Sarah M. Cassidy, Sophia M. Kilcullen, Sonja Delmonte, Sabina Brennan, Jim F. Meaney, Andrew J. Fagan, Arun L. W. Bokde, Neil Upton, Robert Lai, Marc Laruelle, Brian Lawlor, Ian H. Robertson, Donepezil Impairs Memory in Healthy Older Subjects: Behavioural, EEG and Simultaneous EEG/fMRI Biomarkers, PLoS ONE, 6, (9), 2011, pe24126 Journal Article, 2011 TARA - Full Text

Balsters, J.H., O'Connell, R.G., Brennan, S., Galli, A., Kilcullen, S., Bodke, A.L., Lai, R., Upton, N. and Robertson, I.H. , Describing memory decline in the ageing brain using multiple methods: Neuropsychology, volumetrics, electroencephalography and functional magnetic resonance imaging., Irish Journal of Medical Science, 2011 Meeting Abstract, 2011

Brennan, S., Dockree, O., Sobolowski, R. and Robertson I.H., Markers of memory failure in healthy elderly., British Psychological Society Annual Conference, , 14-16 April 2010, 2010 Poster, 2010

Brennan, S., Dockree, P., Sobolowski, R. and Robertson, I.H. , Contribution of alpha to memory failures in healthy elderly, Irish Journal of Medical Sciences, 179, 2010, ppS105 - S105 Meeting Abstract, 2010

Balsters, J.H., O'Connell, R.G., Martin, M.P., Galli, A., Cassidy, S.M., Kilcullen, S.M., Delmonte, S., Brennan, S., Meaney, J.F., Fagan, A.J., Bodke, A., Upton, N., Lai, R., Laurelle, M., Lawlor, B.L. and Robertson, I.H., Simultaneous EEG/fMRU and its role in generating novel biomarkers of Ageing and Drug effects., Irish Journal of Medical Science, 2010 Meeting Abstract, 2010

Brennan, S., Dockree, P., Sobolowski, R. and Robertson, I.H. , Contribution of alpha to memory failures in healthy elderly. Neuroscience Ireland Conference Presentation,, Neuroscience Ireland, 10-11 September, 2009 Oral Presentation, 2009

Non-Peer-Reviewed Publications

O'Connell, R.G., Balsters, J.H., Martin, M.P., Galli, A., Cassidy, S.M., Kilcullen, S.M., Delmonte, S., Brennan, S., Meaney, J.F., Fagan, A.J., Bodke, A., Upton, N., Lai, R., Laurelle, M., Lawlor, B.L. and Robertson, I.H, Donepezil impairs memory in healthy older subjects: Behavioural, EEG and simultaneous EEG/fMRI biomarkers., Alzheimer's Association International Conference, Paris , Paris, 16-21 July 2011, 2011 Conference Paper, 2011

Brennan, S., Dockree, P., Sobolowski, R. and Robertson, I.H. , Contribution of alpha to memory failures in healthy elderly. Neuroscience Ireland Conference Presentation,, IRCSET Symposium, Dublin, 25 September, 2009 Oral Presentation, 2009

Research Expertise

Description

Understanding differential decline in cognitive ageing and dementia, the early detection of cognitive decline and dementia, and the development of interventions to prevent decline. Cognitive reserve

Projects

  • Title
    • ASAPS
  • Summary
    • Mission: to increase the visibility and the societal impact of health research. Aim: to communicate the benefits of European health research to Europeans. Goals: Promote health research and healthy ageing. Problem: Over the last 5 years the EU has invested more than 5 billion euro in health research. Unfortunately, the benefit of this superb research is rarely communicated to the general public. In fact, despite the fact that 70% of Europeans are interested in medical and health research less than 10% of researchers dissemination activities are aimed at the general public. Solution: If you conduct publicly funded research then you know that this has to change. ASAPS can help increase the impact of your research and you turn your dissemination obligation into an opportunity Funding: 1,000,000 Project Coordinator: Sabina Brennan Principle Investigator: Sabina Brennan See project website asaps-sharingage.eu
  • Funding Agency
    • European Commission
  • Date From
    • 01/10/2012
  • Date To
    • 30/09/2014
  • Title
    • RelAte - Benefit of relationship-based mealtime intervention in social isolated older adults
  • Summary
    • Aim: to determine the benefit of a relationship-based nutritional intervention in older people living alone. Methods: One hundred older people living alone will be recruited through local community services. Participants will be randomised to either i) a relationship-based nutritional intervention delivered by a trained volunteer for approx 180 minutes once a week for eight weeks. Participants will also be given dietary advice and will be made aware of local community based meal-provision services where they can avail of low-cost meals to be consumed in a social setting. or ii) a control intervention where participants will be given dietary advice and will be made aware of local community based meal-provision services where they can avail of low-cost meals to be consumed in a social setting. Endpoints: Participants in the intervention and control groups will be assessed at baseline, immediately post-intervention (8 weeks) and at 12-week and 26-week follow-up for changes in: Quality of Life, Cognitive Function, Social connection, Mood, BMI, Walking speed Expected outcomes: Short-term and sustained benefit for the relational nutritional intervention, nutritional advice and information on local social meal service provision over nutritional advice and information on local social meal service provision alone.
  • Funding Agency
    • Home Instead Inc
  • Date From
    • 01/04/13
  • Date To
    • 31/03/15
  • Title
    • DeStress:Cognitive function, caregiver stress and cortisol: Mechanisms and implications for prevention of adverse health consequences in spouse dementia caregivers.
  • Summary
    • Background: The increased incidence of dementia with advancing age together with demographic ageing give rise to an exponential increase in the need for dementia care. Much of this care is provided by informal caregivers frequently spouses who are usually aged over 60. There is considerable evidence that dementia caregiving leads to a number of negative health outcomes including anxiety, depression, physical illness, hospital admissions and even premature death. Caring for a progressively dementing spouse is a prototypic chronic stressor. Chronic psychosocial stress has been implicated in age-related cognitive decline. Elevated cortisol levels indicate stress and may be a risk factor for cognitive decline. Despite an extensive literature on the effects of age, chronic stress, anxiety and depression on cognitive function research examining cognitive function in caregivers and in particular caregivers of people with dementia, is sparse. Aims: The main aim of this study is to clarify the relationship between cognitive function and the stress associated with caring for a spouse with dementia. Dementia caregivers may be a population at risk for cognitive impairment and possibly dementia. Ireland's heavy reliance on informal caregiving in dementia will only remain feasible if the determinants of the health of caregivers are understood and optimised. The ultimate goal of this study is to inform policy, future research and the development of targeted interventions in order to improve caregiver health and make care in the community a viable option, not only for the individual with dementia, but also for their caregiver.
  • Funding Agency
    • Medical Research Charities Group and Health Research Board
  • Date From
    • 01/04/13
  • Date To
    • 31/03/16
  • Title
    • FreeDem
  • Summary
    • The Goal: Improve cognitive health behaviours in older adults. The Idea: develop and evaluate a series of online films that provide practical information, grounded in science, on maintaining cognitive health The Problem: The stigma of dementia prevents open discussion, and the false belief that nothing can be done for people with dementia and their families. A lack of understanding and all too frequent misinformation mean that people often misconstrue the memory loss of Alzheimer's Disease (AD) as 'normal' for older people and don't bring family members in for assessment. In addition, people mistakenly accept that cognitive decline as an inevitable consequence of normal ageing and fail to seek medical opinion. By providing cognitive health advice and by providing clear scientific information that shows the difference between normal and abnormal memory functioning (e.g. memory loss of AD is different to the memory loss that you would find with ageing) and make people aware that memory problems can be a consequence of other diseases or disorders (e.g. diabetes) that require medical attention. The films will encourage people to be proactive and take responsibility for their cognitive health, make important lifestyle changes that reduce risk factors, learn strategies that support declining abilities, seek medical advice in order to facilitate early intervention and diagnosis and advance directives. The Audience: The public generally and adults aged 50+ specifically The Approach: TCD will use its scientific expertise in the field of cognitive ageing and dementia to collate and coordinate beneficial information from a wide range of cognitive ageing research programs and translate it into useable, interpretable and engaging health and well-being short films that can be delivered directly to the public online or via workshops facilitated by a cognitive coach. This educational content will enable and empower Irish citizens in a way that will promote active and healthy ageing and raise awareness that cognitive decline with age is not inevitable. The scientific content will be shaped by user-input and reframed so that all content is both engaging (to enable education and sharing) and accurate (delivering impact and inspiring action). The films will be produced by 360Productions and will use an attention-grabbing combination of clever cutting-edge graphics and sharp scripts, each film will deliver a key message in one entertaining bite-sized chunk. The Cognitive Coaching film modules are designed to deliver the projects key aims: to make the science of brain aging known to the wider population; so they retain key knowledge, and develop the understanding that will allow them to use their new knowledge to take practical steps to improve their lifestyles and the lifestyles of those they care for leading ultimately to less stigma, less distress, and earlier diagnosis, not just of dementia, but also of other conditions that impair cognitive function and ultimately lead to a healthier Irish population.
  • Funding Agency
    • GENIO
  • Date From
    • 01/12/12
  • Date To
    • 31/11/15
  • Title
    • Early Intervention Coordination
  • Summary
    • NEIL in collaboration with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland in the appointment of an Early Intervention Coordinator. The purpose of this collaboration is to research, develop and deliver a system of interventions that are responsive to the needs of people with early-stage dementia. This work will be carried out by Dr. Michelle Kelly under the direction of Principle Investigator Sabina Brennan and the rest of the NEIL team, working directly with the Alzheimer Society and with people living with dementia and their families.
  • Funding Agency
    • Dept. of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht
  • Date From
    • 2012
  • Date To
    • 2014
  • Title
    • NEIL NeuroEnhancement for Independent Lives
  • Summary
    • Vision:To develop, evaluate, and deliver neuroenhancement to older people world-wide The Problem:Failing cognitive function prevents millions of older adults globally from living independently. The Goal: Enable independent living and improve quality of life by: conducting research aimed at dementia prevention and cognitive enhancement; transforming this knowledge into empirically grounded interventions; using this knowledge to educate and empower older adults to maintain their cognitive function for as long as possible NEIL (Neuro-Enhancement for Independent Lives) was established, with philanthropic funding from Atlantic Philanthrpies, to create a research infrastructure to accelerate the development of methods to delay dementia. The NIEL programme for cognitive enhancement and dementia prevention comprises both research and intervention initiatives and aims for a broad integration between basic science mechanisms of cognitive decline and scalable interventions to delay dementia. The NIEL programme coordinates research in a way that would not be possible through the more traditional funding of individual research projects or teams. NEIL brings coherence and focus to dementia and cognitive ageing research by adopting an approach that is interdisciplinary (e.g. neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, bioengineering, social), collaborative (researchers, clinicians and industry) and international. In the absence of innovative and ambitious coordination and support programmes like NIEL progress can stall and research can become fragmented and inefficient. The research conducted under the NEIL umbrella straddles two major research programmes identified in TCD's strategic plan: Ageing and Independent Living and Neuroscience. NEIL benefits hugely from working within the Institute of Neuroscience, a recognised centre of excellence in ageing research.
  • Funding Agency
    • Atlantic Philanthropies
  • Date From
    • 2010
  • Date To
    • 2016
  • Title
    • NEIL Memory Research Unit
  • Summary
    • The NEIL Memory Research Unit uses a comprehensive assessment protocol to collect detailed data on memory and related cognitive processes, and a range of factors that may impact on these processes as we age. This rich database will allow us to conduct extensive research, to investigate a range of hypotheses related to cognitive ageing. We are currently recruiting research volunteers aged 50+ to participate in assessment sessions at this Unit. For more information see http://www.tcd.ie/Neuroscience/neil/research/memory/
  • Date From
    • 2011
  • Title
    • Frailty, Cognitive Function and Caregiver Stress
  • Summary
    • Role: Co-Supervisor PhD Candidate: Michael O'Sullivan Aims: To increase the understanding of the relationship between frailty and caregiver stress. To develop markers that predict cognitive decline. Objective: To characterise the cognitive, emotional and physical health staus in a cohort of dementia caregivers and to examine the relationship between frailty, inflammatory markers, stress, pupillometry, resting EEG and cognitive function at baseline (Time 1) and after 18 months follow-up (Time 2).
  • Funding Agency
    • Irish Research Council - Enterprise Scheme
  • Date From
    • 19/03/13
  • Date To
    • 18/03/16
  • Title
    • An Investigation of the Protective Effect of Cognitive Reserve against Cognitive Impairment
  • Summary
    • Role: PhD Co-Supervisor Candidate: Caoimhe Hannigan Aim: Increase understanding of cognitive ageing and the social and psychological variables that mediate and moderate cognitive function in later life. Objectives:Elucidate cognitive reserve by a) developing a model of the factors that influence it; and b) using this model to test the hypothesis that cognitive reserve is mediated by noradrenergic function.
  • Funding Agency
    • Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Date From
    • 2012
  • Date To
    • 2015
  • Title
    • Identifying early inflammatory changes in monocyte-derived macrophages from a population with IQ-discrepant episodic memory
  • Summary
    • This study which builds on work conducted in Sabina Brennan's PhD examines blood samples for cellular markers of inflammation. If successful, it could offer a major opening for early screening and hence early prevention.
  • Date From
    • 2011
  • Title
    • TCIN-GSK Neurodegeneration Program
  • Summary
    • As part of the TCIN-GSK Neurodegeneration Program this research project, Study 1.1 aimed to identifyi novel cognitive, electrophysiological and behavioural endpoints in human participants that offer greater sensitivity to age-induced cognitive changes than previous endpoints.
  • Funding Agency
    • Glaxo-Smith Klein, IDA
  • Date From
    • 2007
  • Date To
    • 2010
  • Title
    • Neurocognitive and Electrophysiological Indices of Cognitive Performance in Ageing
  • Summary
    • This project explored individual differences in cognitive performance in healthy elderly and aimed to identify neurocognitive and electrophysiological markers that index cognitive decline.
  • Funding Agency
    • Irish Research Council for Science Engineering and Technology
  • Date From
    • 2007
  • Date To
    • 2010

Keywords

AGEING; Ageing, memory and other cognitive processes; ALZHEIMER'S DEMENTIA; BRAIN AGEING; COGNITION ENHANCEMENT; COGNITIVE DECLINE; Cognitive decline in the elderly; COGNITIVE DYSFUNCTION; COGNITIVE FUNCTION; COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE; COGNITIVE-PROCESSES; DEMENTIA; DEMENTIA, NEURODEGENERATIVE; Dementia/ Alzheimer's Disease; Positive Ageing

Recognition

Awards and Honours

Outstanding Contribution to STEM Communications - Science Foundation Ireland 13/11/2016

Champion of Research (Leadership of a Seventh Framework Project) 2012

Government of Ireland Research Scholarship - Irish Research Council of Science Engineering and Technology - Embark Initiative 2007 - 2010

W.J. Smyth Prize for Best Performance in BA (Hons) Psychology 2007

Carmel Staunton Prize for Best Final Year Research Project 2007

First Prize Second Arts 2006

First Prize Second Year Psychology 2006

First Prize First Year Psychology 2005


Last updated 4 June 2015 School of Psychology (Email).