The 27th Annual Alzheimer Day Attracts More Than 500 Registrants
The Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease hosted the 27th Annual Alzheimer Day online on May 6. More than 500 people registered for the two-hour event, which was held via Zoom webinar for the second time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marsel Mesulam, MD, director of the center, opened the event by providing updates on the center’s recent news and publications.
Although the pandemic has changed the way staff and faculty work, Mesulam noted that the center has been productive with research publications. He noted two recent publications, including one in which he was lead author, “Memory Resilience in Alzheimer’s Disease with Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA),” which found patients with PPA are resistant to the memory impairment caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
Another study, led by Tamar Gefen, PhD, showed that a small cohort of individuals over the age of 80, were not only resistant to the age-related changes, but also resistant to the wear and tear in memory centers of the brain over time.
“These two studies show that memory loss is not inevitable in either Alzheimer’s disease or in the course of aging,” Mesulam said.
Later in 2021, Mesulam shared, a larger Neurobehavior and Memory Clinic at Northwestern Medicine will be opening to serve the growing need for dementia care. The new clinic will double the space and greatly improve the ability to serve patients.
John Disterhoft, PhD, announced the winner of the Duncan Prize, which was established in memory of Professor Carl Duncan. Inaugurated in 2006 as the Marie and Carl Duncan Prize in Memory Disorders Research, annually the award is presented to recognize accomplishments in clinically relevant arenas of inquiry.
The 2021 Duncan Prize Winner is Erfan Taefi, a staff member in the lab of Changiz Geula, PhD. Taefi’s project “Cultured Microglia from Cognitive SuperAgers Show High Rates of Proliferation” focused on better understanding the role of microglia — the cells of the immune system in the brain — in maintaining cognitive abilities in old age.
The event continued with the keynote Mendelson Lecture, this year presented by Emily Rogalski, PhD, titled, “Heterogeneity and Resilience in Aging and Dementia.”
Rogalski discussed the center’s expertise in atypical dementias including Primary Progressive Aphasia and Frontotemporal Dementia. She also touched on the varying ways the center seeks to optimize quality of life including through Communication Bridge, which is the largest speech language clinical trial in the country and serves individuals with Primary Progressive Aphasia.
Additionally, Rogalski shared that the center studies SuperAgers, individuals over 80 with superior cognitive function compared to their peers, as an important cohort to better understand what is going right during aging.
The Quality of Life Symposium featured three families living with dementia including Primary Progressive Aphasia, Behavioral Variant Frontotemporal Dementia, and Young-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Dementia. Members of the families offered insight into what it’s like to both live with dementia and care for someone with dementia during the pandemic.
Russell and Barbara Zage shared their experience navigating Russell’s behaviorial variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) diagnosis at the Mesulam Center. Russell is a research participant at the Mesulam Center, and he and Barbara are hopeful his participation will help develop treatment for future generations.
“I am so proud of Russ for wanting to participate because you see so many younger people struggling with the [FTD] diagnosis,” Barb said. “I think the blessing out of [this] is that you are doing the research.”
Candice, Celine and Chris Reyes, whose mother was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and developed into young-onset Alzheimer’s disease, shared their experiences as adult children taking care of their mother. They shared creative ways they have stayed in touch throughout the pandemic including FaceTime and walks outside.
When asked what advice he would give to adult children of a parent with dementia, Chris said, “We can’t do it by ourselves. It’s OK to ask for help and it’s probably a smoother ride if you do ask for help.”
Rick Heffernon was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia and participated in the Communication Bridge study. He and his wife Bev Malmberg shared how they have adapted to living with PPA during the pandemic. Rick noted that he still uses the communication strategies he developed during his participation in Communication Bridge.
A panel of center clinicians included Rogalski, Debbie Dyslin, LCSW, and Ian Grant, MD, to answer attendees’ questions around topics of diagnosis, treatment and care and emerging drug therapeutics. The panel was moderated by Darby Morhardt, PhD, LCSW, and the family members also answered several audience questions about their caregiving experiences. Persons living with dementia directed attention to their remaining interests, abilities and what helps to maintain their best quality of life.
A Research Showcase webpage is still accessible and features 30+ projects submitted from across Northwestern University highlighting the latest neuroscience and cognitive aging research.
Recordings of the event can be accessed on the center’s YouTube channel here.