Spotlight on Alzheimer’s Association Funded Researcher – Maria Elizabeth Rodrigues, Ph.D.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, Alzheimer’s Association is celebrating Hispanics/Latinos fighting to #ENDALZ through volunteerism, advocacy, raising awareness & research. We are grateful for their vital work to move us closer to a world without Alzheimer’s.

This month, we are proud to shine the spotlight on Alzheimer’s Association funded researcher Dr. Maria Rodrigues. Dr. Rodrigues works in the Department of Physiology at Emory University and is currently studying the impact of environmental factors such as lifestyle on the brain function. Dr. Rodrigues recently presented findings from her studies at the world’s largest gathering of researchers, The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC).

Dr. Rodrigues with Linda Davidson, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Association, GA Chapter

Alzheimer’s Association, GA Chapter: Hispanic Heritage Month is about recognizing the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. Your Alzheimer’s research and presentation of findings at AAIC could change the lives of so many. That must be a powerful feeling. What are some ways that you think people could benefit from your studies?

Dr. Rodrigues: Well, I am a Latin woman working in neuroscience, and I value this critical event. Because I have a clinical background, I really know the importance of day-by-day actions for impacting disease prevention.

The Latin community has a high incidence of conditions that increase the risk of dementia in older ages, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It is imperative to offer health services and facilitate assertive information (especially in Spanish) to be disseminated in the Latin community.

Changing habits is not an easy task, and it will work better if the whole family is involved in the process. Fighting the triggers that might increase the number of patients with Alzheimer’s in this community is very important. Again, I am talking about a good lifestyle for delaying and preventing disease. As an educator, teaching young people is a good starting point to disseminate good ideas about Alzheimer’s prevention.

Alzheimer’s Association, GA Chapter: Your studies primarily focus on insulin impairment and inflammation. Can you tell us about the findings that you presented at the conference?

Dr. Rodrigues: Type 2 diabetes is a condition that causes insulin insensitivity, accumulation of glucose in the bloodstream, and a decrease in the ability of cells to use glucose. Previous studies suggest that people with insulin problems (even the ones not diabetic yet) have energy imbalance and a greater chance of developing dementia than healthy individuals. Inflammation is a crucial process that connects and impacts most health problems in obesity that cause type 2 diabetes.

The tumor necrosis factor (TNF) is an important inflammatory agent associated with Alzheimer’s and Type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, to date, approaches to treat the TNF-dependent inflammation present in insulin dysregulation (Type 2 diabetes the body is not able to use insulin properly)

have been unsuccessful. We aim to develop an efficient therapeutic strategy to treat the inflammatory conditions that increase insulin disturbance as a risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Our preliminary data is promising, and we hope to share our first findings with our fellow scientist colleagues soon.

We hope that the decrease in inflammation will promote an improvement in insulin and energy utilization by the brain cells and in other features associated with AD in our experimental model. If successful, this study will help the future development of safe and novel anti-inflammatory treatments for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases associated with insulin impairment.

Dr. Rodrigues presenting at the 2019 AAIC

Alzheimer’s Association, GA Chapter: What prompted your Alzheimer’s Association funded research? A theory or other studies?

Dr. Rodrigues: I would say both theory and other studies. We know that Alzheimer’s is a condition that presents a powerful genetic component. However, the last decade’s research and our own studies indicate that many exposures that impact our bodies throughout our lives can increase Alzheimer’s risk. More specifically, our defense system (the immune system) can be dysregulated by external factors like an unhealthy diet and psychological stress, predisposing our body to inflammatory alterations associated with neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s. Neurodegeneration is a process associated with several diseases, including Alzheimer’s that promotes a progressive death of the cells in your brain that are responsible to form memories and that controls other body functions (neurons). 

Alzheimer’s Association, GA Chapter: What are the main conclusions we can draw from your research?

Dr. Rodrigues: Most importantly, Chronic inflammation is not suitable for your brain, and it is possible to avoid it.Our previous studies have shown that overconsumption of a diet rich in fat and carbohydrates impacts brain insulin interactions, the immune system, and body regulation (including the gut structure and function). These maladaptive processes increase the risk of neurodegenerative brain conditions.

We also found that psychological stress isolated or combined with a high caloric diet dysregulates insulin and cholesterol and promotes inflammation. These alterations are harmful to brain health even more in the context of aging. Therefore, a healthy lifestyle is essential for acquiring longevity with late-life quality. Thus, we need to take care of our immune system because our immune system should work neatly and tightly. Aging presents itself as a challenging for our immune defense… so we need to help it as much as we can.

Alzheimer’s Association, GA Chapter: What’s next? Any other research for Alzheimer’s?

Dr. Rodrigues: I am currently involved in new studies that access the association between intestinal bacteria alterations and inflammatory states that might increase amyloid protein production in the body. Amyloid is the protein that accumulates in the brain of patients with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s Association, GA Chapter: Anything other takeaways for our readers?

Dr. Rodrigues: Please have in mind that the scientific community worldwide is united working hard to try to solve the problems that promote Alzheimer’s disease.

I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease, and I have a very close Aunt that is experiencing advanced stages of this disease right now. To all caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients, I would like to say, please stay positive, forge social bonds, take care of your life style, and let’s work together to control this challenging disease.

To learn more about how researchers like Dr. Rodrigues make an impact, visit alz.org/research

Mark your calendars for the Walk to End CELEBRATION PARTIES across Georgia!

We will be holding our Walk Celebration Party a little differently this year.

Please join us on to celebrate all we’ve accomplished this Walk Season!

We will be giving out awards and doing lots of recognition. We hope you are able to join us!

Attend your CELEBRATION PARTY on the day of the event through the links below:

Albany, GA 11/4/20 at 6:00 PM
Athens, GA11/11/20 at 5:30 PM
Atlanta, GA10/28/20 at 12:00 PM
Bainbridge, GA11/24/20 at 5:30 PM
Canton, GA 11/19/20 at 5:30 PM
Carrollton, GA11/17/20 at 5:30 PM
Columbus, GA 10/20/20 at 6:00 PM
Dalton, GA 10/29/20 at 6:00 PM
Duluth, GA11/19/20 at 5:30 PM
Evans, GA –  12/1/20 at 5:30 PM
Gainesville, GA10/15/20 at 5:30 PM
Golden Isles, GA –  11/18/20 at 6:00 PM
Henry Co., GA10/12/20 at 12:00 PM
LaGrange, GA10/19/20 at 6:00 PM
Macon, GA11/4/20 at 6:00 PM
Peachtree City, GA11/6/20 at 6:00 PM
Rome, GA12/1/20 at 6:00 PM
Savannah, GA10/27/20 at 6:00 PM
Statesboro, GA11/12/20 at 5:30 PM
Tifton, GA11/10/20 at 5:30 PM
Valdosta, GA12/8/20 at 5:30 PM

The world may look a little different right now, but one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to ending Alzheimer’s. This year, Walk to End Alzheimer’s® is everywhere — on every sidewalk, track and trail. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We won’t have a large in-person gathering — instead, we invite you to walk in small teams of friends and family while others in your community do the same. Because we are all still walking and fundraising for the same thing: a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.

When you participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, you’re part of a community that cares — and that community, which starts in your backyard and stretches across the country, has never needed us more. With the dollars we raise, the Alzheimer’s Association® can provide care and support during these uncertain times while advancing critical research toward methods of treatment and prevention.

No Greater Love

When Amanda was a year old, her mother married a man that Amanda says “my life would have taken a very different trajectory if it was not for him”.

When Amanda was growing up in Macon, her father was a successful attorney while her mother worked at Trust Company Bank. Her parents were also very involved with the Central Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Amanda’s father was Board President while Amanda was a volunteer in the adult day care center. Amanda’s grandmother was diagnosed in early 50’s and her family felt this was a great way to give back to the community while honoring a family member. “My dad gave everything to his family. There is no greater love than that and he never expected anything in return”.

In 2014, things started to change with Amanda’s father when they started to notice some changes, and how withdrawn he had become. “My dad was a man of few words anyway, but we knew something was not right”. At the age of 76, Amanda’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

“My mom was the primary caregiver and was able to care for him at home. Although my siblings were able to help, my mother juggled caring for my father and continued to work at her school. My father never wanted to be without my mother”.

While Amanda lived in Savannah, she was able to visit with her father through FaceTime. “I’d ask him ‘who is your favorite daughter’ and he would always laugh. It became the running joke that I was his “favorite daughter”, but he didn’t have favorites.

On June 28, 2020, Amanda’s dad passed away at home peacefully while her family surrounded him. “I remember holding my Dad’s hand the night before he passed, and asked him to squeeze it if he could hear me? He did and then I asked for him to squeeze twice, and he squeezed my hand twice. I promised him that I would take care of Mom no matter what”.

This has been a very rough few months”, added Amanda. “Watching a brilliant attorney decline was a real struggle and it’s hard to think about what this did to our family”.

On Saturday, September 26, along with hundreds of other Savannah residents, Amanda’s family will come together to participate in the Savannah Walk to End Alzheimer’s. They are celebrating Amanda’s father’s legacy and remember the man they cherished so dearly. The family named their team “No Greater Love”, which is from John 15:13   – ‘Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends”.

“We want to help find a cure that robbed my Dad’s mind – how scary is it to lose something that served so many so well and now it’s robbing you”.

To learn more about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, visit georgiawalk.org

Georgia Representative Sharon Cooper receives Legislator of the Year Award from the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter.

By Cai Yoke, Advocacy Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter

The Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter is thrilled to announce that the 2020 Legislator of the Year has been awarded to Representative Sharon Cooper of the 43rd district, for her work on HB 987 and her tireless efforts to improve the standards of care in Georgia’s assisted living facilities and memory care units. 

For the past few years, advocates and leaders in the aging community have identified the critical need for addressing the standards of care in Georgia’s senior care industry. This fight to secure senior care reform garnered significant momentum in the fall of 2019, when an investigative series authored by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution uncovered patterns of neglect and abuse in assisted living facilities and memory care centers throughout the state. 

In seeing these troubling reports, Rep. Sharon Cooper immediately rolled up her sleeves and went to work, collaborating with constituents, advocates, aging organizations, and care providers themselves to imagine and create a bill that would adequately address and prevent the problems many constituents were enduring in these facilities. 

Studying legislation on Senior Care – Representative Cooper with Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force Directors Kim Sherk and Joe Gavalis, and Alzheimer’s Association Government Affairs Director MaryLea Boatwright Quinn.

That bill would become HB 987, and as its primary co-sponsor, Rep. Cooper would prove to be absolutely instrumental in addressing and resolving the many obstacles we encountered as the bill made its way through the state legislature, including the abrupt adjournment of the legislative session due to COVID-19. 

Due to Rep. Cooper persistence and tenacity and the efforts of hundreds of advocates throughout the state, including the 90 advocates who came to the Capitol in early March  to urge their Senators to pass the bill, HB 987 was signed into law in June and will take effect July 1, 2021. In its passage, HB 987 establishes a framework for memory care in Georgia and establishes important training, staffing, and regulations that will radically improve the quality of care in these settings. 

From left to right – Representative John LaHood, Joe Hood, Department of Community Health, Representative Sharon Cooper and Governor Brian Kemp – signing HB987 into law

After receiving the Legislator of the Year Award, Rep. Sharon Cooper thanked advocates for all their work to ensure this bill’s success:

“Thank you for this special recognition and thank you to all the advocates who came to the Capitol and talked to the Representatives and Senators – hearing it from people who are dealing with Alzheimer’s makes all the difference in the world. HB987 was one of the hardest bills I have ever worked on, yet so rewarding.”

Despite this landmark victory, we know we still have much to accomplish to ensure that Georgians affected by dementia receive the care and support services they need. We are so proud and so excited to move forward in this fight with champions like Representative Sharon Cooper, and with our incredible and dedicated advocates!

From left to right: Peggy Lavender, Alzheimer’s advocate and caregiver, Rep. Cooper, Linda Davidson, Executive Director, Georgia Chapter and Dan Britt, Sr. Development Director, Georgia Chapter

Alzheimer’s Association – Ask the Expert Series

New interactive series offers conversations between experts and dementia caregivers 

Join us as the Alzheimer’s Association across Georgia and the Carolinas brings together area health care experts and dementia caregivers. Each Ask the Expert series will take place on Facebook Live and allow opportunity for participants to ask questions during the live event. Each event will have a different topic. 

ASK THE EXPERT – COGNITIVE ASSESSMENTS: PART 1

Friday, September 11 FROM 2:00 – 2:30 p.m.

As we age, it’s important for healthcare providers to have a baseline for our complete wellness, including brain health. Cognitive assessments help providers measure your brain health and track changes. If you’re having concerns about your memory and questioning how to talk about it with your provider, join us for an interactive series on September 11 with Dr. Monica Parker as she addresses cognitive assessments and the Annual Medicare Wellness Visit. 

Featured Expert

Monica Parker, MD

Emory University School of Medicine

Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center

How to participate in this event

To join this event live, mark your calendar and go to the Association’s Georgia Chapter Facebook pages at 2 PM on Friday, September 11.

No RSVP is required for this event.