Memories Matter Livestream offers look at research advancements and ways to get involved in research

Memories Matter Livestream offers look at research advancements and ways to get involved in research

This image shows photos of the speakers who presented at the Memories Matter LivestreamThe Initiative to End Alzheimer’s hosted a Memories Matter Livestream event on October 9 regarding how Alzheimer’s disease can be defined, a personal story about caregiving for loved ones with the disease, and clinical trials currently taking place in an effort to slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

To begin the livestream, Steve Ramig, senior director of development for the UW Initiative to End Alzheimer’s, introduced the speakers for the night as well as the purpose of the livestream event. Soon after his short introduction, he introduced Dr. Nathaniel Chin, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (UWSMPH).

Dr. Chin started his presentation with two definitions of Alzheimer’s disease – a scientific definition based on what is happening in the brain and a clinical definition based on the outward appearance of the disease. He went on to explain this further, saying on one hand scientists see Alzheimer’s disease-related changes in the brain through PET scans and other tests, while doctors, family members, and friends see a person with dementia experience memory declines, thinking and mood changes, and other physical and neurological impacts of the disease. Dr. Chin continued with an explanation of the sequence of events in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive buffers that can help slow its onset. Overall, Dr. Chin stressed that an individual who presents early patterns for Alzheimer’s can make specific lifestyle changes to build up a “cognitive buffer” that results in a higher resilience in order to prolong the effects of the disease.

Next, a presentation from Sara Tirner involved a set of personal experiences she encountered as a caregiver for her parents and how they led to her decision to support Alzheimer’s disease research at UW–Madison and join the Board of Visitors for the UW Initiative to End Alzheimer’s. Sara explained her parents’ need for caregiving after her father underwent a series of surgeries and her mother exhibited increasing cognitive decline and memory loss. As a result, she devoted every week to drive back and forth between Madison and Two Rivers, Wisconsin, which eventually led to caregiving for them full time.

Echoing Dr. Chin’s point about cognitive buffers, Tirner stressed the importance of walking and intellectual stimulation, noting the positive effects they had on her mother as she was suffering through cognitive decline. After both of her parents passed away, Tirner realized the importance a lifestyle change could have to slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In turn, she joined the BFit study through the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) because of her family history of the disease. Tirner found the study, marked by strenuous exercise and strict diet for 12 weeks, intimidating. However, she made it through and said it was harder than even taking care of her parents. Ultimately, Tirner concluded the thought of future treatment and an end to Alzheimer’s disease was on her mind during those 12 weeks and helped her complete the study requirements.

Barbara Bendlin, associate professor in the Department of Medicine Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at UWSMPH, echoed Tirner’s story by speaking about the modifiable behaviors for Alzheimer’s disease as well as the BFit study. She spoke about three modifiable risk factors the Wisconsin ADRC is currently studying that can change an individual’s course for the disease — vascular and metabolic health, diet and exercise, and gut microbiome. More specifically, she said studies have pointed to heightened risk for Alzheimer’s disease in middle age when people with high blood pressure, central obesity or abnormal cholesterol are shown to have problems with blood flow to various parts of the brain. Because of this, the BFit (Blood Flow Improvement Trial) was born. The study involved a cohort of people between the ages of 45 and 65 who observed a carbohydrate-restricted diet and strenuous exercise routine. Dr. Bendlin reported the study results seen in participants, including lower visceral fat, memory improvement, lower triglyceride levels and increased HDL (good cholesterol) after just 12 weeks.

Tirner’s experience with the BFit study showed her the importance research can have for future generations and prompted her to make a donation to another Bendlin Lab project. The study Tirner funded examines gut health and intestinal permeability and its connection to Alzheimer’s disease risk.

At the end of the event, the speakers answered questions live.

Story by Mitchell Mocadlo