The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) is the largest and most influential international meeting dedicated to advancing dementia science. Each year, AAIC convenes the world’s leading basic science and clinical researchers, next-generation investigators, clinicians and the care research community to share research discoveries that’ll lead to methods of prevention and treatment and improvements in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Access highlights from other days here.
Florida Researcher Spotlight
James Galvin, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, presented The Brain Health Platform: Combining Resilience, Vulnerability and Performance to assess brain health and risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I have always been interested in the brain but my personal connection is that my grandfather developed Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia when I was in high school and college. I saw how little could be done and decided then that I wanted to make a difference
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? In addition to my grandfather who passed away 25 years ago, my grandmother who just turned 101 has developed Alzheimer’s. My mother in law passed away 3 years ago from Alzheimer’s and my father in law passed away 2 years ago from Vascular dementia.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? We spend a lot of time, perhaps too much time focusing on disease and far too little time talking about health, vitality, resilience and capabilities. My research has focused on understanding how to best measure brain health and identify modifiable targets for personalized prevention plans to make each person the best they can be.
Dana Godrich, from Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics, Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, presented Alzheimer Disease candidate variants are associated with cerebral amyloid angiopathy.
Julia Sheffler, from Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee, presented Adverse Childhood Experiences and Poor Sleep Quality in Older Adults: The Influence of Cognitive Reappraisal.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I started getting involved in aging research as an undergraduate. Even in high school, I knew I wanted to work with older adults, because aging is a topic that affects everyone (if we’re lucky). My focus on Alzheimer’s disease risk came from both personal experiences and learning about the structure and function of the brain. AD is a disease that robs people of many of the qualities that define them, and I have always been interested in understanding how we (clinicians and researchers) can help give people the best quality of life possible.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? I do. I was very close with my grandmother who developed dementia while I was in high school. I wish I had understood the disease then like I do now, because I think I could have helped my family see the signs and seek better resources. A large part of my motivation for this work comes from wanting to help other families and patients understand this disease and get connected with the resources they need.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? I think it is important to take a life-course perspective when thinking about Alzheimer’s disease risk. My work looks at how events beginning early in life, even in childhood, can influence trajectories across the lifespan leading to higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other health problems. Sleep is strongly associated with risk and progression of AD, and this project shows that 1) childhood adversity continues to influence sleep quality even in older adults, and 2) active coping strategies, such as cognitive reappraisal and active planning can protect against the negative effects of childhood adversity later in life. This means that teaching these strategies may have major benefits for late-life health, especially among people who experienced more adversity earlier in life.
Lisa Wiese, from C.E. Lynn College of Nursing and Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton presented Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Referral Outcomes among Diverse Rural Residents.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? When my mother developed short-term memory loss, her primary care provider suspected Alzheimer’s disease and initiated treatment of medications (Aricept and Namenda). We believe that early intervention enabled her to age-in-place in her own residence until she passed suddenly from an unrelated illness six years later. I chose the topic of increasing awareness and understanding about Alzheimer’s disease as my dissertation focus*, as a means of fostering earlier detection, diagnosis, and management for others at risk for dementia.
*I developed and refined a “Basic Knowledge of Alzheimer’s Disease” 30-item knowledge survey, which includes the Alzheimer’s Assn 10 early signs/symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. It is published here.
What do you think this research means to the field? Our research is showing that underserved rural and racially/ethnically diverse residents with limited access to the most recent information regarding Alzheimer’s disease are embracing opportunities for education and screening. This contradicts the perception that Alzheimer’s disease is stigmatizing, and that people do not want to know if they are at risk for or have the illness. Instead, we are finding that the vast majority of rural residents we approach want to be informed, so they can pursue actions to diminish risk or delay progression of symptoms. Fortunately, there are lifestyle choices we can make to assist in those efforts. Furthermore, early detection allows time for future care planning. However, not all providers have the time or confidence in diagnosing and treating, and are referring persons to neurologists who require travel to urban facilities with specialized providers. Unfortunately, providers and patients report that transportation requirements are a real barrier to follow-through after referral. In our research, we are testing the use of gerontology-trained, board certified nurse practitioners, who travel to underserved settings. They conduct in-depth cognitive assessments, and provide a report of the findings with recommendations to the participant’s local provider. This referral process has been extremely well-received in a subsection of Florida’s rural communities, and has resulted in a 25-31% increase in diagnosis/ Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. (This work was funded by the National Institute on Aging, and is currently being compiled for submission).
Gregory Day, from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, presented Determining Etiologic Diagnoses in Patients with Rapidly Progressive Dementia.
How did you become involved in Alzheimer’s research? I was introduced to impactful and motivated mentors who were already active in this space while completing Neurology residency in Toronto, Canada (great researchers and clinicians, including Drs. Sandra Black, Morris Freeman, David Tang-Wai, Tiffany Chow, and Carmela Tartaglia). Following residency training I moved to Washington University in Saint Louis to complete a fellowship in memory and aging with Dr. John C Morris and so many other greats in the field. This is where things really took off. I had the opportunity to see more and more patients with AD, which really highlighted the truth in the Alzheimer’s Association saying that “If you’ve seen one patient with Alzheimer disease, you’ve seen one patient with Alzheimer disease”. I became intrigued by the variability and variety in the clinical presentation, and increasingly interested in deciphering the underlying changes in the brain (and the patient) that accounted for that variability. These early experiences have continued to shape my research progress and clinical practice since moving to Mayo Clinic in 2020. My interest has been further strengthened through engagement with several national / international projects that promise to further inform our understanding of this unique disease, including ADNI, LEADS, and DIAN; and through emergent work to improve recruitment and engagement of increasingly diverse communities within the Jacksonville area.
Do you have a personal connection to the disease? Although I didn’t start down this path with a deeply personal connection, the opportunity to get to know my patients, research participants, and their family members and caregivers has made this an increasingly personal pursuit. We are increasingly hard-pressed to find a family untouched by this disease. Working towards a cure and working to advance care are incredibly worthy pursuits; I’m grateful for the opportunity to join the fight and to work alongside such a remarkably talented team at the Mayo Clinic in Florida.
What do you think this research means to the field? Why is it important? This work primarily focused on efforts in our cohorts with rapidly progressive dementia. This includes patients with rapidly progressive Alzheimer’s (onset of first symptom to near-complete incapacitation <2 years). This is a relatively rare subset of patients, accounting for <4% of all dementia presentations. Essentially my colleagues and I hope to leverage our findings in these rare patients to understand the drivers of Alzheimer’s (and related dementias), realizing that the patient- and disease-specific factors that lead to rapid progressive dementia may inform future treatments that will also apply to patients with more common typically progressive forms of dementia. These two projects use different datasets / sources to work towards this purpose.
National Dementia Research News
Experiences of Racism Associated with Poor Memory, Increased Cognitive Decline Experiences of structural, interpersonal and institutional racism are associated with lower memory scores and worse cognition in midlife and old age, especially among Black individuals. Read more.
Alzheimer’s Association Launches ALZ-NET: A Long-Term Data Collection and Sharing Network for New Treatments The Alzheimer’s Association launched the Alzheimer’s Network for Treatment and Diagnostics (ALZ-NET) — a new platform that will collect long-term clinical and safety data from patients treated with FDA-approved Alzheimer’s disease therapies in real world clinical settings. Read more.
Get the latest dementia science and research news in the palm of your hand with the Alzheimer’s Association Science Hub app. Learn more at alz.org/sciencehub.
I am 83 mother (widow)caring for 59 yr old daughter suffering from frontal cranial dementia she lives with her dog across the street from my condo. She is in her 3rd or 4 year of dementia I have left my normal life to be available to her. She is getting more difficult daily she has not accepted any doctors care nor medication Can’t put her in facility because dog is 65 lbs has been her companion for nine years. We live in. West Boca. Can I get help PLEASE! Miriam Zadanoff 561 430 5401
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