Here’s how to improve your everyday memory as you age

Research shows that the human brain starts to shrink with age. When the brain shrinks, your ability to remember things can decline. You can help offset the decline in memory with regular activity that challenges both the mind and the body.

Here are some tips to help minimize age-related changes and improve everyday memory:

Stay active

Cardiovascular activity for 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week is important for physical and mental health. Try walking, swimming or another activity that you enjoy. Physical activity enlarges the hippocampus (the most vital part of the brain for memory) and improves long-term memory.

Sleep more

It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age. What often happens is sleep patterns change. As we age, we spend more time in lighter sleep stages than deeper sleep stages. Try and get as much sleep as it takes for you to feel rested (at least seven to nine hours), and this includes and encourages naps.

Continue to socialize

Being social and getting out improves your memory and your mood.

Be sure you can see and hear well

It is hard to learn new things and remember old things if you can’t see or hear well. Wear your prescription glasses or hearing aids if they are prescribed to you. Have your sight and hearing tested periodically.

Avoid distractions that divert your attention

Distractions can range from trying to do several things at once to loud background noises. Even your own thoughts can distract you. When you’re preoccupied, it’s harder to pay attention. Stay focused on one task at a time so you don’t forget directions or other important information.

Try new things

New experiences, such as going to a new place or even taking a different route to your usual places, can also improve recall. Trying new things activates the part of your brain that turns short-term memory into long-term memory.

Use these memory aids

Despite the best efforts, episodic memory, which captures the “what,” “where,” and “when” of daily life, declines somewhat over time. So does long-term memory. The American Psychological Association offers these suggestions:

  • Make lists of what you want to accomplish and check off items when they are finished. Follow your established routine.
  • Don’t hurry. Take your time learning new information or remembering old information.
  • Stay organized: Keep things you use a lot in the same place each time. Put your keys and other important things somewhere that you walk by frequently.
  • Make visual associations to remember names or places.
  • Keep a calendar or planner of important dates. Check it throughout the day.

How we can help

Normal memory problems should not affect your everyday life. If you occasionally forget where you put things, you might just need to get better organized. However, if you forget how to do something or what to do in certain situations, you should see a health care provider. These memory problems are not a normal part of aging.

The UK Memory Disorders Clinic at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute offers a variety of services to individuals with memory problems and their families. Patients at the clinic undergo a complete evaluation from our team of experts to diagnose and treat a variety of memory disorders.


Next steps:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that can affect mental capability and cause memory loss. It usually affects people who are 65 or older, so if there’s a senior in your life, be aware of these signs and symptoms of the disease.
  • Learn more about the UK Memory Disorders Clinic, which provides support to those with memory problems and their families.

Couple works with UK to help ALS patients maintain independence

Last month, the ALS Clinic at UK HealthCare earned a coveted recognition from the ALS Association: ALS Association Certified Treatment Center of Excellence. The certification honors UK’s commitment to research and patient care, which centers around a multidisciplinary approach where patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, see a variety of specialists in a single visit.

But the ALS Clinic – part of the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute – goes beyond those requirements, offering a valuable service called the ALS Equipment Loan Closet in partnership with the ALS Association’s Kentucky Chapter and Roddy and Kim Williams, who co-own APEX Mobility.

“ALS is decimating financially, as patients require expensive, customized equipment to help prolong their independence, and they often need it right away,” said Dr. Edward Kasarskis, director of the ALS Clinic. “The Loan Closet helps bridge the gap between a patient’s diagnosis and the time it takes for the equipment to arrive.”

Kim Williams said that a customized wheelchair for an ALS patient can have any number of features to help the patient navigate, sleep and/or stand. That level of technology comes with a steep price tag – between $25,000 to $30,000 – and the process can take up to eight weeks from insurance approval/reimbursement to equipment delivery.

Williams comes to KNI every Tuesday to visit with ALS patients and match their needs to what’s currently available, which can range from wheelchairs, walkers and lifts to speech-generating devices. The Loan Closet is stocked through equipment donations from the families of former patients. It’s supplemented by fundraising and is available free of charge to patients.

“ALS is often not diagnosed until the patient has significant symptoms, and you can’t just get equipment off the shelf,” Kim Williams said. “The Loan Closet exists so that the patient and his/her family can adjust more quickly,” adding that she and Roddy see it as critical to patient safety, independence and well-being.

According to Kim, Kasarskis approached Roddy about 13 years ago, asking for help on behalf of his patients.

“By the second time Roddy visited the ALS Clinic, he was hooked,” Kim said. “It became his passion to help these people.”

Since then, APEX Mobility has focused almost entirely on the needs of ALS patients. Kasarskis, who is similarly devoted to his patients, sings the Williams’ praises.

“Roddy and Kim do this with a generous heart, and in doing so make the lives of countless patients and families a lot better,” he said. “For that, we are so grateful.”


Next steps:

African-American medical research

How can medical research better serve minority communities?

A researcher at UK is urging her fellow health scientists to take a more holistic and thoughtful approach when it comes to studying dementia and other diseases in Blacks/African-Americans.

Eseosa Ighodaro, PhD

Eseosa Ighodaro, PhD

Eseosa Ighodaro, PhD, a researcher at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, is the lead author of a new paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that encourages health researchers to be proactive in addressing the challenges associated with studying dementia in Blacks/African-Americans.

The paper, co-authored by researchers at Sanders-Brown, the University of Washington, Rice University and Rush University Medical Center, assesses the barriers that hinder minority recruitment for dementia research and the misconceptions that potentially distort research results related to minority populations.

“This study helps to identify problems in dementia-related research that are both historical and ongoing,” said Peter Nelson, MD, PhD, who works at Sanders-Brown. “You cannot seek solutions effectively until you are forthright about the problems.”

Race vs. socioeconomic variable

The paper argues that using race as a variable in research can result in inaccurate data interpretation. The authors point to several studies exploring genetic ancestral markers and race self-identification to demonstrate that race is not a dependable substitute for genetics.

“Race is, in many senses, a social construct that evolves over time due to social policy, cultural beliefs and political practices, and that risks misinterpretation of the differences between individuals who identify with certain racial/ethnic groups,” Ighodaro said.

Instead, she suggested that socioeconomic status variables such as zip code, income level, education, access to medical care and other social determinants of health need to be included in data interpretation, pointing to two recent studies that demonstrated socioeconomic conditions were a better predictor of stroke risk and dementia than race.

Historical factors

Ighodaro also identifies the horrific and unethical biomedical experimentation on African-Americans that continued into this century as one of the culprits for the African-American community’s persistent mistrust of physicians and scientists.

As a result, some African-Americans, who fear they are “guinea pigs,” are less likely to participate in research or donate blood or other biospecimens, which can decrease Black/African-American representation in dementia research studies.

Furthermore, the paper asserts, there is a need for efforts to increase the “diversity of thought and identity” among scientists, which studies show will enhance the quality and output of research collaborations.

“Scientists need to think holistically about the determinants of health when studying underserved populations and break out of the conventional and erroneous mindset that genetics are the sole cause of health disparities,” Ighodaro said. “And we must acknowledge and address the historical horrific mistreatment of Blacks/African-Americans in biomedical research as a first step towards improved minority research recruitment.”

“These barriers to what’s called ‘better science’ won’t be easily abated,” she says, “but they are critically necessary to align the quality of our data with all the populations we serve – minority or otherwise.”


Next steps:

ALS Clinic team provides care, support for former UK Wildcat

Talbott Todd had a memorable football career as a UK Wildcat in the mid-1960’s, playing multiple positions for Coach Charlie Bradshaw.

Todd is perhaps most famous for his 1964 game-clinching fumble recovery that ended top-ranked Ole Miss’s 22-game regular-season road game winning streak. His tenacity on the field was acknowledged last year when UK named the alley between the football field and Nutter Field House “Talbott Todd Way.”

That same tenacity continues to serve him well today as he and his family deal with his 2015 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, diagnosis. ALS is a progressive neurological disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, eventually stealing from its victims the ability to walk, dress, write, speak, swallow and breathe. Most ALS patients die within five years of diagnosis, and currently, there is no cure.

“Everything about Talbott was happy, healthy and normal, but I noticed that every once in a while, his speech was slurred,” said Marilyn, Todd’s wife of 52 years. “The first doctor thought it was medicine side effects. A second doctor conducted every kind of test, but ALS was not in our thoughts at all.”

After he was diagnosed with ALS, Talbott and Marilyn made an appointment with Dr. Ed Kasarskis, director of UK ALS Clinic at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute. The couple felt a connection the moment Kasarskis walked through the door – the result, Marilyn says, of his easy personality, patient listening and clear explanations.

“He acknowledged right away that this diagnosis was something no one wants to hear, but we weren’t entirely powerless in the situation,” Marilyn said. “Everything about him said, ‘This is not just about being sick.'”

A team approach to ALS care

Every day about 15 people learn they have ALS, while tens of thousands more are living with the disease, which requires a dizzying array of treatments and services to help them stay mobile and independent. The ALS Association, headquartered in Washington D.C., was formed in part to provide people with ALS and their families the resources to live fuller lives.

Research has shown that multidisciplinary care, or the practice of having physicians and other healthcare professionals collaborate to provide the most comprehensive treatment plan for patients, helps people with ALS have a better quality of life and actually prolongs life in most cases.

Kasarskis (fondly called “Dr. K” by patients and staff) is committed to multidisciplinary care, and his ALS Clinic at UK is set up so that patients can typically see every member of the care team – neurologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, respiratory therapist, nurse, dietitian, speech language pathologist, social worker, mental health professional and an ALS Association (ALSA) Chapter Liaison – in a single visit.

That, plus UK’s significant involvement in ALS research, has earned the ALS Clinic a coveted title from the ALS Association: ALS Association Certified Treatment Center of Excellence.There are fewer than 50 such centers in the U.S., and UK is the only one in Kentucky.

“The University of Kentucky continues to exhibit the highest levels of established national standards of care in the management of ALS, providing patients with high-quality compassionate care and support,” said Mari Bacon, executive director for the Kentucky Chapter of the ALS Association. “The care that people receive here is a model for other parts of the country, and I’m proud that we are able to recognize UK for its outstanding multidisciplinary approach to treating people with this devastating disease.”

Finding strength in the ALS community

Marilyn points out that an ALS diagnosis requires the entire family’s hands-on assistance.

“God blessed us with two sons,” she said. “Their love and support cannot be measured in time or money, and we could not do it without them.”

Marilyn also treasures the friendships she’s made through the ALS Association Kentucky Chapter support group meetings.

“We ask questions of one another and share ideas,” she said. “We support family members in their grief and keep up with each other long after the battle is over.”

ALS exacts a significant financial toll as patients tend to require expensive equipment to help prolong their sense of independence at home. A customized wheelchair, for example, can cost $25,000 to $30,000 and take several weeks to manufacture. The ALS Clinic at UK, in partnership with ALS Association Kentucky Chapter and volunteer Roddy Williams, helps manage the Loan Closet, which functions as a public library of sorts that supports patients until their own equipment arrives.

“ALS is often not diagnosed until the patient has significant symptoms, and you can’t just get equipment off the shelf,” said Kim Williams, Roddy’s wife and a partner in their business, APEX Mobility. “The Loan Closet helps bridge the gap while the patient waits for their new equipment to arrive.”

The Todds used the Loan Closet after Talbott was first diagnosed and are currently awaiting the arrival of his new customized wheelchair.

The ALS Clinic was recognized for its ALS Association certification during a reception and plaque presentation last week, and the Todd family was present to help commemorate the honor.

“What this clinic has done for us is immeasurable,” Marilyn said. “On a scale of one to 10, I’d give Dr. K a 20.”


Next steps:

No. 1 hospital in Kentucky

We’re the No. 1 hospital in Ky., again

UK HealthCare Albert B. Chandler Hospital remains the No. 1 hospital in Kentucky and the Bluegrass Region, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals Rankings released today.

In addition, four major areas have achieved Top 50 national rankings, three of them for the first time. UK HealthCare rankings included: No. 37 in Diabetes and Endocrinology, No. 43 in Geriatrics, No. 44 in Neurology and Neurosurgery, and No. 50 in Cancer.

Along with the Top 50 rankings, UK HealthCare is ranked as high-performing in five other adult specialties – Gastroenterology and GI Surgery; Nephrology; Orthopaedics; Pulmonology; and Urology. Additionally, UK HealthCare was designated high-performing in eight common adult procedures and conditions: Aortic Valve Surgery, Heart Bypass Surgery, Heart Failure, Colon Cancer Surgery, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Hip Replacement, Knee Replacement, and Lung Cancer Surgery.

These recognitions cement UK HealthCare’s role as the major healthcare system best equipped to deal with our state’s unique health needs, said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK executive vice president for health affairs.

“We are committed to providing the best programs and best care available in Kentucky so that no one has to travel far from home for world-class advanced specialty care,” Karpf said. “These rankings speak to the hard work and dedication of our physicians, our nurses and our entire healthcare team.”

‘We’re ready no matter the situation’

This year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings cover nearly every hospital in every community nationwide. The rankings are grounded in objective data and offer patients a rich resource on their hospital choices. More than 70 percent of the rankings are based on objective data, with U.S. News analyzing more than 2,600 metrics across 21 data-driven specialties and procedures and conditions. The result is thousands of data points on hospitals that excel at treating the most challenging cases, those that do best in more routine procedures and those that provide top local care.

“UK HealthCare is a place where you feel safe because you know we’re ready no matter the situation or illness,” said Colleen Swartz, UK HealthCare’s chief administrative officer.

“If you have someone you love who lives in Kentucky, you will need UK HealthCare at some point in time. Whether it’s someone with a newly diagnosed cancer, or a premature baby, or a critically ill or injured child, or brother or mother or sister, you want to know that a place like this is ready to go when you need us.”

Diabetes & Endocrinology

This year’s rankings included a major leap for UK’s diabetes and endocrinology program. The specialty at UK HealthCare, previously unranked, is now No. 37 in the country, a testament to both the clinical care and research at the UK Barnstable-Brown Diabetes Center.

“We are one of the few places in Kentucky where all these services are provided either under one roof or where we can engage people to help you in all these different arenas,” said Dr. John Fowlkes, director of the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center.

This collaboration and patient-centered care offered at the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center provide patients with outstanding clinical care throughout their lifespan and for all aspects of their health, said Dr. Lisa Tannock, chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Molecular Medicine.

“Our physicians, advanced practice providers, endocrinology fellows and staff, including expert-certified diabetes educators, continually seek opportunities to teach advanced patient care based on our ongoing research into the best ways to prevent and treat diabetes and endocrine diseases,” she said.

Geriatrics

UK HealthCare was ranked No. 43 in Geriatrics. The U.S. News Geriatrics rankings represent how well hospitals treat older patients across a wide range of medical issues and conditions.

Dr. Shawn Caudill, professor and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine and Women’s Health, sees increasingly more geriatric patients in UK HealthCare’s outpatient clinics. He said the rankings are an indication of the high-quality care that UK HealthCare provides to a population that is living longer than before.

“We’ve had lot of success in overcoming the things that used to kill people – heart attacks, strokes, lung disease – and we’ve done interventions to help keep people going longer,” Caudill said. “And now it is important for us to continue to help take care of them.”

Neurology & Neurosurgery

For the first time, UK HealthCare is nationally ranked for its neurological care, coming in at No. 44 in Neurology and Neurosurgery.

“This is something we’ve been working on for the past two years,” said Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, the Ruth L. Works Professor and chair of the UK Department of Neurology, and co-director of the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute (KNI). “It’s wonderful to be able to have our faculty and staff receive this recognition for all the great things they’re doing.”

Fellow KNI Co-Director Linda Van Eldik, who also is director of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, was pleased with national rankings in Neurology and Neurosurgery as well as Geriatrics.

“This is really a culmination of the work we’ve been doing for many years in the areas of brain,” Van Eldik said. “It’s recognition from the outside of what we already knew – that we were doing leading-edge work and we are continuing to enhance our excellence.”

Cancer care

Cancer care was included in the Top 50 for the first time – although it has consistently been designated as high performing for many years. Still, the move up is indicative of the Markey Cancer Center’s continued emphasis on providing exemplary care as the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated center.

“We see 50 percent of our patients coming from Eastern Kentucky, which has some of the highest rates of cancer in the country – particularly lung cancer and colon cancer. So the Markey Cancer Center is vitally important to our region,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the Markey Cancer Center.

The people behind the scenes

In acknowledging all of UK HealthCare’s national rankings and achievements, one factor is always first to be attributed to success – the people who work here.

“I’ve been here almost a year and a half, and to see what the University of Kentucky and UK HealthCare has achieved, really in a short time, is remarkable,” said UK College of Medicine Dean Dr. Robert DiPaola. “And to see the passion of the people here behind the scenes doing the things that make a difference for our patients – it is absolutely amazing. I know that going forward we will continue this trajectory.”


Hear more about this awesome recognition, including comments from some of UK HealthCare’s leaders, in the video below.


Next steps:

Down syndrome and Alzheimer's disease

Understanding the link between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s

Written by Elizabeth Head, PhD, and Frederick Schmitt, PhD, the principal investigators for the Aging and Down Syndrome Research Study at UK.

People who have Down syndrome may develop Alzheimer’s disease at a younger age than people without Down syndrome. However, recent research has shown that some people with Down syndrome might not develop Alzheimer’s or other dementias at all.

Doctors and researchers don’t know why some people with Down syndrome develop dementia, either earlier or later than normal, while others don’t. But we’re working to find out.

Currently, only a few of the approved drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease have been tested for use by people with Down syndrome, and these treatments offer few benefits. That’s why it’s critical for us to learn more about normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease in people with Down syndrome.

At UK, we have been funded since 2009 by the National Institutes of Health to follow a group of volunteers with Down syndrome. We’ve learned about several important changes that happen in the brain as people with Down syndrome age.

Connections in the brain

We’ve learned that connections in the brain called white matter tracts – like the “wires” connecting different parts in our brains – may be different in people with Down syndrome.

The frontal lobe, which is important to our personality, memory and actions, appears to be less strongly connected to other parts of the brain in people with Down syndrome. As these individuals get older, these connections become progressively weaker, possibly leading to personality changes and memory problems.

Changes in proteins

We’re learning that there may be changes in some blood proteins in people with Down syndrome that indicate the need for different Alzheimer’s treatments.

Some of these changes include higher levels of a protein called betaamyloid, which increases with age and may suddenly change as someone develops dementia. Other proteins include those involved with the immune system and inflammation, which appear to be more common in people with Down syndrome as they get older.

Helpful testing tools

We’ve learned about which kinds of learning and memory tests are helpful for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and which are not. This understanding will help us when we study whether certain treatments lead to learning and memory improvements in people with Down syndrome.

Our work to understand Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease continues. If you are at least 25 years old, have Down syndrome and are interested in participating in our research, please contact Roberta Davis at 859-218-3865 or Roberta.Davis@uky.edu.

Participation involves an annual visit including blood measures for wellness, neurologic examinations, tests of learning and memory, changes in walking, and brain imaging. More information is also available at www.uky.edu/DSAging.


Next steps:

elderly care

Improving elder care through physician-pharmacist teamwork

A new study from UK researchers shows that when physicians and pharmacists work together more closely, care for elderly patients can be improved.

The findings, published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, show the value of physician-pharmacist teams in providing more coordinated care for elderly patients, especially as it relates to prescription medications.

As people age, the number of medications they’re prescribed tends to increase, which makes both patient care and medication therapy more complicated. In the U.S., patients over 60 take an average of five medications, many of which are prescribed by different physicians. This increases the risk of inappropriate drug prescriptions and side effects, including cognitive impairment.

Ensuring medications are prescribed appropriately is especially important for patients living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Anticholinergic drugs – used to treat nausea, peptic ulcers, lung disease, dizziness and other conditions common in elderly patients – are often the culprits of inappropriate prescriptions.

Although they sometimes prove helpful, these medications have also been known to result in cognitive decline. Therefore, it is essential to find the right balance between risks and benefits for each individual patient.

Creating a medication therapy management team

In order to examine this further, Dr. Daniela Moga from the UK College of Pharmacy and Dr. Greg Jicha from the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging partnered to conduct an eight-week randomized trial with patients from Sanders-Brown.

Their aim was to investigate whether a targeted patient-centered, pharmacist-physician medication therapy management team intervention could reduce the inappropriate prescribing of anticholinergics. The research was the first step in evaluating whether intervention can improve cognitive function in patients.

Their findings showed promise. Compared to the control group, patients receiving the intervention showed a reduction in the number of prescribed anticholinergic drugs. In addition, patients appreciated the opportunity to participate in the study and recognized the importance of optimizing their medical treatment.

Expanding the research

Now with funding from the National Institutes of Health, Moga and Jicha will follow a larger group of patients for one year, and further evaluate the long-term effects of intervention by a medication therapy management team.

Physicians are constantly managing risks and benefits of medications with patients, and sometimes the potential for adverse effects is not fully recognized.

“When physicians and pharmacists work together, everyone wins,” Moga said. “It’s clear that including a pharmacist on the patient-care team means better outcomes and better healthcare for patients.”

“This study highlights the benefits of patient-centered medical teams that improve drug choices and the health of elderly patients, many of whom have highly complex medical conditions and needs,” said Greg Graf, assistant dean for translational research and UK College of Pharmacy faculty member. “The project is a collaborative effort between the UK Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, and we’re proud of the work we’re able to do together.”

This research was funded in part by the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences, Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Women’s Health Research and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Next steps:

Dr. Matthew Gentry

Video: UK scientist explains his unique path to studying disease

When UK researcher Matthew Gentry began his career studying the biology of plants, he didn’t realize he’d someday be pursuing a cure for a human disease.

“You have to be willing to go where the science takes you,” says Gentry, a professor in the UK College of Medicine.

In Gentry’s case, the journey began when he found that a certain plant protein behaved similarly to the human protein that plays a role in Lafora disease – a rare congenital neurodegenerative condition that causes severe epilepsy, loss of speech and muscle control, and dementia, eventually leading to death.

This discovery provided information that medical researchers around the world are using today to test potential therapies for this deadly disease.

The research was also a step toward the development of methods to modify starch, with applications in the manufacturing of products such as plastics, animal feed, glue and clothing.

On a molecular level, the overlap between plant and human biology is tremendous, Gentry explains.

“Not long ago, the prevailing thought was that you could either work to cure a disease or you could work to figure out how something [a plant, a cell] functions,” Gentry says. “We are now at the point where the two intersect.”

Gentry spends much of his time advocating for more science funding through his work with the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The current funding landscape is such that scientists must spend more and more of their time writing grants, which takes them away from doing meaningful research, he explains.

He also hopes that more of this funding will support the types of basic research that shed light on cellular function and dysfunction.

“This type of research can have implications for many diseases, not just one,” he says. “We need to be careful not to silo all the research dollars for specific diseases because that sometimes doesn’t allow the best science to get done.”

Watch the video below to learn more about Dr. Gentry’s innovative research.


Next steps:

exercise memory

Could exercise help ward off dementia? UK study aims to find out.

Allison Caban-Holt

Allison Caban-Holt

Written by Allison Caban-Holt, PhD, of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging

Experts at the World Health Organization say that a sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide. We all know that being active can reduce our risk for diabetes, heart disease or even stress. But might it also help ward off dementia?

Recently, researchers have been studying the relationship between exercise and cognitive performance, bringing hopeful news about the benefits that exercise can provide patients who have degenerative brain diseases and cognitive impairment caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

The UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is one of 15 centers pairing with YMCAs across the country for a study called “Exercise in Adults with Mild Memory Problems,” or EXERT. EXERT will explore whether physical exercises such as stretching, balance and range of motion versus moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise can slow the progression of early Alzheimer’s disease memory problems (known as “mild cognitive impairment”) in older adults.

Participants will receive a free 18-month membership to a participating YMCA, a free personal trainer for 12 months, a personalized exercise program, medical evaluations and the opportunity to relax, meet new people and have fun.

To be part of this trial, participants must be between 65 and 89 years of age, experiencing mild memory problems, and able to exercise four times a week at the Lexington High Street YMCA for 18 months. Other criteria for the study include general good health, no recent history of regular exercise and not currently on insulin.

For more information about participating, please contact Molly Harper, EXERT study coordinator, at molly.harper@uky.edu or 859-323-2978, or visit the National Institutes of Aging website.

You or someone you know might be able to help prove the idea that “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.”


Next steps:

  • Sanders-Brown recently teamed up with The Balm in Gilead to raise awareness about memory-related disorders in the African-American community. Learn more about the partnership.
  • Alzheimer’s disease usually affects people who are 65 or older. If there’s a senior in your life, be aware of these signs and symptoms of the disease.

UK partners with faith organization to address memory loss in African-American communities

Phyllis Wilson knows all too well the devastating impact Alzheimer’s disease can have on an individual and the family.

Growing up, Wilson watched Alzheimer’s disease take her mother’s life. Her painful memories of watching her suffer from the symptoms of the disease remain with her to this day. When she first started noticing signs of the disease in herself, she enrolled in a clinical trial at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, not just for herself, but for her children and grandchildren.

“I worry about what that did to my family. It’s hard to watch; I can’t describe it. I know I don’t want to be in that predicament,” Wilson said. “I read about a clinical trial at the Sanders-Brown Center at UK and I wanted to get involved. It won’t help me, but it might help my kids and grandkids.”

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out simple tasks. More than 5 million people in the U.S. are currently living with the disease, and that number could rise as high as 16 million by 2050.

African-Americans like Wilson are two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than Caucasians and are less likely to have an early diagnosis of their condition, which means less time for treatment and planning.

In an effort to the limit the toll Alzheimer’s takes in the African-American community, Sanders-Brown recently teamed up with The Balm in Gilead to raise awareness about memory-related disorders. The Balm in Gilead is a faith-based organization that addresses prevalent public health issues among African-Americans.

As an aspect of the partnership, Sanders-Brown developed educational materials to be distributed in churches and other faith-based organizations during The Balm in Gilead’s Memory Weekend event. Memory Weekend launched in Lexington on June 11 and was celebrated in 25 churches across Kentucky.

Awareness can lead to early diagnosis

There are no known genetic factors to explain why African-Americans are at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s. However, the known risk factors for the disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, are more common in African-Americans.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that African-Americans are less likely than Caucasians to have a formal diagnosis of their condition because they are less likely to report symptoms of memory loss to their doctors. That’s why spreading awareness about Alzheimer’s disease among African-Americans in non-medical settings is crucial to early diagnosis.

Markeda Yarbrough, a clinical research assistant at Sanders-Brown, says the church is the single most important influence in bringing the African-American community together.

“It’s about building trust in a community where there is a great deal of mistrust of the medical community,” Yarbrough said. “Church members will often go to other church members with health concerns. It’s a place where members can go to other members who are knowledgeable and caring.”

Yarbrough said that African-American women tend to be screened for Alzheimer’s four to five times more than African-American men, who are more reluctant. If not diagnosed in the early stages, the disease may progress so far that treatments aren’t as effective.

Wilson says although she’s not comfortable approaching people to initiate a conversation about Alzheimer’s disease, she has no problem talking about it if someone were to ask her.

“I don’t want other people to have to deal with this disease,” she said. “When I think about what it did to my family, it kills my soul.”


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