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Kevin Duff, Ph.D., ABPP(CN)

Professor of Neurology with Tenure
Neuropsychologist, Center for Alzheimer's Care, Imaging and Research

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Dr. Kevin Duff

Excellence in Neuropsychology

Dr. Duff has specialized in neuropsychology for over 10 years. He has had a remarkably productive career (>120 peer-reviewed publications), and is recognized among his colleagues as one of the rising stars of neuropsychology. His commendable research career has included studies of aging, practice effects, Mild Cognitive Impairment, and Huntington's Disease.

Dr. Duff joined the University of Utah in September 2009 as Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology, and Neuropsychologist for the Center for Alzheimer's Care, Imaging and Research (CACIR). He became board-certified in Clinical Neuropsychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology in 2011. He was awarded tenure in 2014.

Academic History

Dr. Duff completed his undergraduate work at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and received an MA in Psychology at the University of Northern Colorado. He obtained his PhD in Clinical Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany. He completed his neuropsychology internship at the Southern Arizona Healthcare System in Tucson, AZ, and his post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.

He joined the Psychiatry Department at the University of Iowa in 2003, where he accrued extensive teaching experience and had clinical and research responsibilities working with patients with dementia, Huntington's disease, and a variety of other neuropsychiatric conditions.

Dr. Duff is a member of the American Psychological Association, International Neuropsychological Society, National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN), and the Huntington's Study Group. He is an Associate Editor for Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, and he serves on the Editorial Board for multiple neuropsychology journals. In 2008, Dr. Duff received the Early Career Award from NAN for his outstanding contributions to the field of neuropsychology. In 2009, NAN awarded him the Nelson Butters Award for publishing the most influential paper of the year in Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology. In 2011, he was elected as a Fellow of NAN. In 2012, he was elected as Treasurer of the Society for Clinical Neuropsychology (Division 40 of the American Psychological Association). He reviews grants and other materials for multiple federal agencies (e.g., National Institutes of Health [NIH], Food & Drug Administration, Veteran’s Affairs) and private foundations, as well as many scientific journals.

Research Interests

Dr. Duff conducts research in clinical neuropsychology, aging and dementia. His primary areas of interest include longitudinal cognitive assessment, practice effects as an indicator of cognitive plasticity, and cognitive decline in normal aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment, and dementia.

In an initial NIH-funded study, he observed that some patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment showed large practice effects on cognitive tests across one week, improving by >20 – 30% on memory tests. These patients were labeled MCI+PE. Other patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment showed smaller than expected practice effects across one week (only about 10% improvement) and they were labeled MCI-PE. In a follow-up study, also funded by NIH, Dr. Duff and colleagues showed that these two groups had different outcomes across one year. The MCI+PE remained stable, whereas the MCI-PE showed notable decline. This finding, which is presented in the figure below, was published in Duff et al. (2011). Essentially, practice effects may provide an inexpensive and non-invasive test of cognitive outcome in patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment.


A small group of patients (n=25) from the earlier study were recruited in a subsequent study to examine if practice effects were related to different types of brain pathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This study was funded by a research agreement with GE Healthcare and a private foundation. All participants received three types of brain scans: MRI (to look at size and shape of the brain), FDG-PET (to look at metabolism of the brain), and flutemetamol PET (to look at the amount of amyloid deposition in the brain). Results of this pilot study indicated that one-week practice effects on a visual memory test were significantly related to the amount of amyloid deposition in the brain. In the figure below (published in Duff et al., 2014), the patient with large practice effects had minimal amyloid deposition (left image), whereas the patient with small practice effects had much more amyloid in the brain (right image, “hotter” colors indicate more amyloid deposition). If practice effects are linked to brain pathology, as they appeared to be in this study, then they become more valuable as a potential marker of early Alzheimer’s disease. Practice effects had no relationship with hippocampal volumes on MRI and more modest correlations with brain metabolism on FDG-PET.


Dr. Duff is currently leading another NIH-funded study that seeks to examine the benefits of online computer games/activities in improving brain functioning in individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment. He is also studying if practice effects across one week predict who is more likely to benefit from the online games/activities. In a pilot study, funded by the University of Utah’s Center on Aging, he found that individuals with higher practice effects did better on the computer activities than individuals with lower practice effects (see figure below). If these preliminary results are supported, then practice effects may be used to identify those patients with a greater likelihood of benefitting from certain interventions (i.e., personalized medicine).

He currently leads an NIH-funded study that seeks to predict dementia using practice effects, and he has studied their implication in amnestic mild cognitive impairment. Dr. Duff's extensive work with Huntington's disease has focused on psychiatric and cognitive functioning, particularly psychiatric and cognitive changes that occur in individuals before they develop Huntington's. Dr. Duff's research has been widely published in scientific journals and he has lectured nationally and internationally on his areas of expertise.

Selected Publications

  • Duff K, Foster NL, Hoffman JM. Practice effects and amyloid deposition: preliminary data on a method for enriching samples in clinical trials. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2014 Jul-Sep;28(3):247-52.
  • Duff K, Gerstenecker A, Litvan I; investigators and coordinators of the ENGENE-PSP Study Group. Functional impairment in progressive supranuclear palsy. Neurology. 2013 Jan 22;80(4):380-4.
  • Duff K, Callister C, Dennett K, Tometich D. Practice effects: a unique cognitive variable. Clin Neuropsychol. 2012;26(7):1117-27.
  • Duff K, Chelune G, Dennett K. Within-session practice effects in patients referred for suspected dementia. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2012;33(4):245-9.
  • Duff K. Evidence-based indicators of neuropsychological change in the individual patient: relevant concepts and methods. Arch Clin Neuropsychol. 2012 May;27(3):248-61.
  • Duff K, Lyketsos CG, Beglinger LJ, Chelune G, Moser DJ, Arndt S, Schultz SK, Paulsen JS, Petersen RC, McCaffrey RJ. Practice effects predict cognitive outcome in amnestic mild cognitive impairment. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 Nov;19(11):932-9.
  • Duff K, Paulsen JS, Beglinger LJ, Langbehn DR, Wang C, Stout JC, Ross CA, Aylward E, Carlozzi NE, Queller S; Predict-HD Investigators of the Huntington Study Group. "Frontal" behaviors before the diagnosis of Huntington's disease and their relationship to markers of disease progression: evidence of early lack of awareness. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2010 Spring;22(2):196-207.
  • Duff K, Beglinger LJ, Moser DJ, Schultz SK, Paulsen JS. Practice effects and outcome of cognitive training: preliminary evidence from a memory training course. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2010 Jan;18(1):91.
  • Duff K, Mold JW, Gidron Y. Cognitive functioning predicts survival in the elderly. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2009 Jan;31(1):90-5.
  • Duff K, Beglinger LJ, Van Der Heiden S, Moser DJ, Arndt S, Schultz SK, Paulsen JS. Short-term practice effects in amnestic mild cognitive impairment: implications for diagnosis and treatment. Int Psychogeriatr. 2008 Oct;20(5):986-99.
  • Duff K, Beglinger LJ, Schultz SK, Moser DJ, McCaffrey RJ, Haase RF, Westervelt HJ, Langbehn DR, Paulsen JS; Huntington's Study Group. Practice effects in the prediction of long-term cognitive outcome in three patient samples: a novel prognostic index. Arch Clin Neuropsychol. 2007 Jan;22(1):15-24.

View a more complete listing of Dr. Duff's publications here.

This Page Last Updated: September 21, 2018