Dr. Victoria Leavitt: Society Fellow makes strides in improving cognition
Victoria M. Leavitt, PhD, is a true Society Fellow success story. Dr. Leavitt, who earned her PhD in clinical neuropsychology from Queens College of the City University of New York, received training in rehabilitation research at Kessler Foundation, thanks to a Society-supported Postdoctoral Fellowship.
Dr. Leavitt went on to publish a study in Neurology of people living with MS that reveals declining cognitive performance as outdoor temperatures rise. This is valuable information for people living with MS, who may want to modify how and when they spend time outdoors, and may even impact the way MS is studied. “Outdoor temperatures may be an important consideration when designing and conducting clinical trials, many of which span six months,” Dr. Leavitt explains.
Dr. Leavitt says she focuses on cognitive rehabilitation because the cognitive effects of MS are among the most frequent and challenging symptoms for people with MS. “I used to hear the words ‘cognitive rehabilitation’ and imagine arduous paper-and-pencil tasks with questionable efficacy,” she says. “Now I know that cognitive rehabilitation can include activities like memory training using imagery and context that can improve brain function, but that also change the brain on the level of structure and neural functioning.”
Now a new Society-supported research grant has Dr. Leavitt looking into how we might begin predict the course an individual’s cognitive symptoms is likely to take. “By using functional MRI, which allows us to watch the brain at work, we have identified a pattern of activity in the brains of people with MS that may be predictive of future memory decline,” she reports. “With the new grant, I will be able to examine this in a large sample over time to validate this pattern.”