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Sanders-Brown Center researcher awarded grant to study Alzheimer’s prevention

Ai-Ling Lin, PhD

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a five-year, $2.88 million grant to UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging researcher Ai-Ling Lin to study a drug’s potential to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Lin, an assistant professor at the Sanders-Brown Center, hopes to demonstrate that low doses of Rapamycin, a drug commonly used in organ transplantation, can restore brain function and prevent memory loss. Rapamycin is commonly used to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ.

“We hope our research will demonstrate that Rapamycin prompts tangible benefit by preventing the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” Lin said.

Unique testing methods

Her study is unique in that it will also assess whether a relatively new imaging concept called multimodal MRI is effective in measuring the success of other potential treatments. mMRI uses traditional MRI plus another form of imaging (CT scan or PET scan, for example) to provide complementary information.

“We have two eyes for a reason. You can function with just one, but eyesight is improved when both eyes work well,” Lin said. “mMRI follows the same concept: multiple layers of data increase accuracy.”

Lin will be studying the drug in mice with the gene associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. She will validate mMRI results with biological and behavioral tests to confirm the test’s accuracy.

A win-win

It will be a while before Lin’s research will be ready for human clinical trials, but mMRI as an alternative to other testing methods has the potential for speedy adoption, as the mMRI methods are readily available to be used in humans.

“Being able to test a drug and also a means of assessing other drugs in the future is truly exciting,” Lin said.

Linda Van Eldik, Sanders-Brown director, says that this latest grant is another important step in Sanders-Brown’s race against Alzheimer’s.

“As many as 1 in 5 people carry the Alzheimer’s gene APOE4, so the idea that a readily-available drug already demonstrated to be safe in humans might prevent what is arguably the most devastating and expensive disease in modern history is exciting,” said Van Eldik. “It’s a win-win for science and for the people it serves.”


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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.
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.”


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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.


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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.


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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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Sanders-Brown Center on Aging

Watch: 6 families coping with Alzheimer’s share their stories

Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect the person with the disease; it affects their family and friends, too. A new video from the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging chronicles the emotional journey of the wives, sons, husbands and daughters whose loved ones have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Titled “Our Story,” the video debuted at the Sanders-Brown annual dinner celebration on April 13 and featured the stories of six families whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. (Watch the video below!)

Our Story shows how Sanders-Brown helps patients and their family and friends cope with the financial, psychological and emotional impact of the disease – and how many of them are giving back by participating in research at Sanders-Brown.

“Kentucky is so fortunate to have [Sanders-Brown] right in its backyard,” said Jon Vaughn, chairman of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging Foundation. “It seemed right to focus on the Sanders-Brown research, education and clinical programs, and its profound impact on the people who suffer in Kentucky and beyond.”

About 70,000 Kentuckians suffer from the disease, and someone new is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds. Linda Van Eldik, PhD, director of the Sanders-Brown, reminded those in attendance that while there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Sanders-Brown is a world leader in efforts to find ways to slow down the disease process or cure it altogether.

In the end, however, Sanders-Brown’s mission isn’t just about numbers, test tubes or microscopes.

“It’s about patients and their families,” she said.

Watch “Our Story” below.


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Caring for someone with dementia can be exhausting, so be sure to practice self-care. Doing so can help you take better care of yourself as well as others.

Caring for a loved one with dementia? Don’t neglect self-care.

Written by Robin Hamon, senior social worker with the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

Caring for someone with dementia can be exhausting, but many caregivers ignore their own needs in order to care for others – at the expense of their own health and welfare. You might think you have too much on your plate or feel guilty about doing anything for yourself when someone else desperately needs you. But you can be a more effective caregiver when you carve out some time to renew and re-energize.

Here are some tips to add caring for yourself while you are providing care for someone else.

  • Stay positive. Seek out what makes you feel happy. It can be as simple as spending time with a pet, listening to music or taking a walk in your neighborhood. Take one day at a time. Avoid trying to anticipate every bad thing that might happen. Replace negative thoughts and habits with positive ones (make lists of beautiful sights you have seen, spend 10 minutes stretching or focus on your breathing for a few minutes).
  • Empower yourself. People assume there is no way to get help without draining their bank account. There are some free or reduced-cost assistance programs that provide support, information and respite. Educate yourself to avoid these false assumptions. By doing so, you’ll feel better equipped to deal with even some of the hardest situations.
  • Accept that you can’t do it all and prioritize accordingly. Don’t let chores and obligations compete with “you” time. Forgive yourself for being less than perfect, find help with household chores, drop outside responsibilities that you don’t enjoy. Be true to your diet, medicine and exercise routines. Do something fun every day.
  • Stay connected. Find opportunities where you can safely “let off steam” and get positive reinforcement. If family and friends aren’t available, there are support groups, church families and other activity groups that can provide fresh ideas to help you redirect or de-stress – and maybe even have fun while you are doing it.

Taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do for the person you’re caring for. By focusing on your well-being, you can improve quality of life for all involved.

You can call the Alzheimer’s Association at 800-272-3900 for additional resources, or you can visit the Family Caregiver Alliance’s website.


Next steps:

Though there’s no cure for dementia, there is some good news. By knowing the signs and symptoms, there are ways to limit the toll it takes.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of dementia

An Alzheimer’s disease or dementia diagnosis is devastating for everyone involved. Although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, there is some good news. By knowing the signs and symptoms of the disease and recognizing it in its earliest stages, there are ways to limit the toll it takes.

Warning signs

Alzheimer’s and dementia usually affects people who are 65 or older, so if there’s a senior in your life, be aware of these signs and symptoms.

  • Forgetting important information.
  • Lack of problem-solving skills.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
  • Using incorrect words.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Personality changes.

How Sanders-Brown can help

If you notice any of the symptoms above, consider making a memory evaluation appointment with the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. We’re a worldwide leader in Alzheimer’s and dementia research and patient care. In fact, we’re one of only 30 designated Alzheimer’s Disease Centers in the U.S. and have been funded by the National Institutes of Health for more than 30 years.

Our experts are on the leading-edge of memory loss research, tapping into data from more than 800 volunteers – both healthy and cognitively impaired – to better understand how healthy brain aging occurs and why some people develop Alzheimer’s.

That research directly impacts patient care, allowing us to identify the disease earlier and provide therapies to our patients that can delay or prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Our comprehensive efforts to tackle this disease don’t end with the patient. We actively work with a patient’s family members and caregivers to help them understand how they can help their loved one.

“We often say Alzheimer’s is a family disease,” said Linda Van Eldik, PhD, director of Sanders-Brown. “That’s why we’re here to provide outreach, education and support to help patients and their families get the help they need to lead active and engaged lives.”


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