Healthy Lifestyle Research in Georgia

New research reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2019 in Los Angeles suggests healthy lifestyle choices — including healthy diet, exercise, and cognitive stimulation — may decrease risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Researchers also found lifestyle modifications may reduce risk even in the face of other risk factors, including genetics and pollution, and provide maximum memory benefit when combined. The Alzheimer’s Association funds many such research studies that aid in information and preventative awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.

Whitney Wharton, PhD is the Associate Professor of Nursing and Neurology at Emory University. She’s been studying Alzheimer’s disease as a clinical scientist for over a decade with a focus on Alzheimer’s prevention. “I design clinical interventions that we hope can slow the brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease. Interventions include both lifestyle and medicines that we know are related to the buildup of brain plaques, most of the interventions focus the heart – brain connection. We have a Tango dance intervention, aerobic exercise, art, caregiver educational sessions, and we look at certain blood pressure medications to slow Alzheimer’s disease.”

“My team is comprised of 2 research coordinators and many students, who are the backbone of the lab. We also have biostatisticians, nurses, physicians and community representatives involved in all studies. We also work closely with scientists and community advocates from the Alzheimer’s Association, to ensure that we let the public know that there are research studies available for younger, healthy people, and also give caregivers the tolls they need to provide care for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as keep caregivers themselves healthy.”

Dr. Wharton has a family history of Alzheimer’s disease which helps motivate her in her work. “My grandmother lived with Alzheimer’s for a long time, and I saw the toll it took on her as well as my parents that cared for her. I feel a strong affinity for dementia caregivers, because they are as much affected by Alzheimer’s as the actual patient. Caregivers are less likely to eat properly, to have high stress levels, have poor sleep, and are themselves at increased risk for Alzheimer’s due to genetics. Caregivers also experience isolation and are forced to navigate the healthcare system and search for resources, which can be stressful, expensive and confusing. I experienced this in my own family.”

The resources provided by the Alzheimer’s Association can help ease the burden of locating information and getting help. Research, like Dr. Wharton’s, that is supported by the Alzheimer’s Association helps keep the information cutting edge and current so caregivers and those affected by Alzheimer’s are receiving the most beneficial resources. In addition to prevention of brain changes to ultimately prevent Alzheimer’s, Dr. Wharton’s team is especially interested in “improving the quality of life in Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers through providing resources and education, until we are able to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s.”

They are currently focused on making sure that they enroll underrepresented and minority participants in their research. “This includes people of color, women, caregivers, and the LGBTQ community. Each of these populations are at risk for dementia, and we need to ensure that treatments and prevention strategies are appropriate and helpful to everyone.”

“We are currently looking for 12 more participants for our study called HEART, and we are looking for African Americans, 40 years old and over who have a family history of dementia. The study is 8 months long and involves between 5-6 visits at Emory University. We are especially excited about this trail. We are looking at the potential of an FDA approved blood pressure medication to reduce the brain plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer’s. We hope to confirm that the medication helps to prevent the accumulation of brain plaques and tangles. We are studying African Americans and individuals with dementia in their family, because both are risk factor for Alzheimer’s and this population would likely benefit most from this type of medicine.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by the brain. It controls our emotions, our decision making and our memory. It is also the most complicated organ in the body to study. My team and I are dedicated to finding ways to keep your brain healthy, and prevent disease, so we can all have a good quality of life as we age. If we are able to prevent brain changes that cause Alzheimer’s, that means living longer independently and engaging with friends and family.”

To learn more about Alzheimer’s research, please click here. To sign up for the HEART study, please click here

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