A “Carpe Diem” Perspective on How to Holiday during 2020

Mary Caldwell, Early Stage Program Manager, Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter

Well, here we are good people- at the holiday season during one of the strangest years on record. 2020 has brought the world low and taught us exactly how crucial human connection is, especially to those living with dementia and the thousands of Georgians who stand with and care for them. As a gerontologist with the Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, I manage the Carpe Diem, Early Stage Program. I can tell you it is a wonderful role that allows me to interact daily with some of the nicest Georgians you will ever meet.

Carpe Diem Walk to End Alzheimer’s Team – 2019

When COVID-19 restrictions began in March of this year, our program immediately pivoted to a virtual platform. At first, we were all beginners in the Zoom Tech World! “I can see you, but I can’t hear you” or “No, no, please stay muted” or “Remember, we can hear you”, sometimes even a “Just click the link in the email”. Looking back to late spring, I laugh at the way we clumsily came together virtually so we could maintain our connection. We learned together, we laughed at ourselves, and we experienced gratitude for this new technology that connected us safely at a time when being together in person is not an option.

Currently the Carpe Diem Virtual Program offers about twenty opportunities per month to members ranging from Virtual Gentle Yoga, “Musing Together at The High”, support groups for persons living with dementia as well as their care partners, to a monthly Lunch and Learn. The program would not be possible without a cadre of amazing and talented volunteers who facilitate the events. I often refer to our statewide early stage group as a community, because we certainly are connected in all the ways that matter. Members struggle together, laugh together, learn together, cry together and yes, learn to live with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Mild Cognitive Impairment, or another dementia together.

Musings Together at the High Museum – 2016

During the past month or so, heading into the holiday season, we have discussed how we plan to spend the holidays. Many of the members, including myself, have children and grandchildren. Others either never had children or their children live far away. This is a diverse group in every way including age range. It is always interesting to share our individual and family traditions.

I admit, I was surprised when the overwhelming answer to “How will you all be spending the holidays”? was, “We don’t know”! But folks, there you have it. This lovely group representing women and men full of wisdom, experience, accomplishment, and expertise had no clue how to “Holiday” during a pandemic- and really, why should they? Talk about a first!

So, the question remains. How do we celebrate the 2020 holiday season when we cannot safely travel to see family, enjoy holiday meals with our families, or take part in the warm gatherings at home that mark the season? Does this mean we shouldn’t celebrate at all? Is 2020 going to rob us of this joy?

Carpe Diem members have an answer to those questions. NO! Some of my most favorite people in the world are living with dementia, or they are caring for someone living with dementia. I have learned so much from these friends who wake up each day and face uncertainty with grace, strength, humor, and gratitude. This makes me feel uniquely grateful myself to be able to share some advice for how to not just survive, but thrive, live life to the fullest and love during this crazy 2020 holiday season.

Come on and “Carpe Diem” with us through Holiday Season 2020 with these simple tips.

1) Take Care of Yourself:  Don’t stop the things that keep you healthy, happy, and going strong. 2020 is a marathon not a sprint and if we don’t rest, eat healthy, and continue to take care of our minds, bodies, and souls, we won’t be here to celebrate the end of COVID-19.

2) Stay Connected: Yes, we know you have Zoom fatigue. We know you want to gather with your people in person. We want that, too. Everyone wants that. But, really, wishing it won’t make it happen and it may just add to risk of depression and certainly will keep you from completely enjoying the ways we can stay connected. Make those Zoom plans to meet for the holidays, but also think about scheduling a coffee chat, or meeting for a virtual lunch. One of our grandfathers living with dementia has zoom reading time with his grandson and they love it! Set that laptop on the kitchen counter and bake cookies together. The essence of Carpe Diem is seizing the moment and focusing on what we can do- Not what we cannot do.

3) Lean into the Joy of Everyday Things: One of our care partners found a new passion on her daily walks with her husband who is living with early stage Alzheimer’s. They both began to notice the beauty in their Sandy Spring’s neighborhood- the flowers, grass, leaves, the other people in the park. This inspired her to begin photographing that beauty and making the most interesting leaf art, which I know will be treasured gifts for her family this holiday. Lean into the good feelings for those will carry you through the rough patches.  Be dedicated to recognizing the good. We magnify the things to which we give focus.

4) Let Go of Expectations: Go ahead and bring out all your favorite decorations, watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”, cook a turkey, make those homemade latkes, sing carols, watch the Macy’s Day Parade. Or don’t. Look, if we are honest, holidays are lovely, but they are also stressful and full of expectations that we pile on ourselves and others. 2020 gives you complete permission to go as far or as little as you like this year. Some Carpe Diem members have their decorations up already while others say they are giving it a rest this year. We have folks eating steak dinners and tacos while others are making traditional cornbread dressing. Have a discussion with you about you and ask yourself, what do I really want to do this holiday- then surprise yourself and do it!

Violette Peters and her mother Ablyne Winge.

To learn more about the early stage programs provided by the Georgia Chapter, visit Early Stage Programs or call 800-272-3900.

Show your Georgia pride and your commitment #ENDALZ!

Walk to End Alzheimer’s® looked different this year, but our supporters have truly stepped up across the state to keep fighting back against Alzheimer’s and all other dementia. We are so proud of Georgia, and we can’t thank you enough for your support.

Even though walk day is over, fundraising continues. Donations for the 2020 Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be accepted through December 31, and we need your help to reach our statewide goal for 2020.

To keep up our momentum, we are excited to announce a new challenge! Today through November 30, anyone who raises or donates an additional $300 for a local walk will earn an exclusive Georgia Walk to End Alzheimer’s long sleeve t-shirt. There’s no better way to show your Georgia pride and your commitment to fight Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.

If you haven’t participated in Walk to End Alzheimer’s yet this year, take the first step now by registering at georgiawalk.org You can create your own private Walk Day by watching your local opening ceremony online and tracking your steps with our Walk to End Alzheimer’s mobile app . It’s easy to log in to your Participant Center to connect a Facebook fundraiser, ask your friends and family for their support, and check your fundraising progress. 

If you have walked with us this fall, we are so grateful for the steps you’ve already taken to fund Alzheimer’s research, care and support! In addition to the exclusive state t-shirt up for grabs through November 30, you can earn fundraising incentive prizes through December 31 starting at the $300 level!

Check out these creative fall fundraising ideas as well: 

  • Love dressing up your fur baby? Host a virtual pet costume contest and charge a donation to participate.
  • Have your Halloween jack-o-lanterns seen better days? Invite your friends to participate in a “Punkin Chunkin” contest in exchange for a donation and see who can fling their gourd the furthest.
  • Looking for something fun to do? Create an outdoor fall-themed scavenger hunt and invite others (near or far) to participate in exchange for a donation.
  • Do you love to cook? Host a virtual cooking class and share your favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Ask for a donation in order to attend.
  • Miss seeing your friends? Invite them to drive by and drop off loose change for a “penny parade”!

Whatever you enjoy doing, we encourage you to think of how you can turn it into a safe fundraiser for Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s isn’t giving up, and neither will we.

Thank you, Georgia for everything you’ve done to support this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s!

Caregiver Stories: Jack Sanderson

National Caregivers Month

Caregiving is becoming a public health issue. As diagnosis for Alzheimer’s related diseases increases, so does the number of caregivers. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 16 million Americans provide more than 17 billion hours of unpaid care for family and friends with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias each year. In 2019 alone, caregivers provided an estimated 18.5 billion hours of care.

While facts and figures are a vital part of recognizing this crisis, they only tell part of the story. They don’t humanize the daily caregiver struggle with mental fatigue, social isolation, and despair. They don’t illustrate the beautiful love behind the hard choices and the heartache of those who still remember when others have forgotten.

For National Caregivers Month, we aim to share caregiver stories of lessons learned, lives lived, and love that endures tragic circumstances. For those who remember, like Jack Sanderson, the pain is real, and their stories deserve to be told.

Jack Sanderson is a caregiver for his wife, Norma, and the first to bravely tell the story of their life, love, and the dramatic effects of dealing with Alzheimer’s.

Meet Jack and Norma Sanderson

Norma is the love of my life. It’s hard to put a lifetime into a few Facebook posts, but people be made aware. Caregiving is challenging enough without a pandemic to compete with. This is not the life we imagined together. I want to be with my wife, but I want to keep her safe. Right now, I can’t do both. Nearly seven months into this COVID nightmare, and still counting. The situation remains-look but don’t touch. Frustration, fear, anxiety have all taken on a new meaning. I want the hugging and touching switch to be turned back on. If it doesn’t, things will only get worse.

The Beginning

Oddly enough, it all began at a shoeshine event at Michigan State College during the Spring Quarter in 1954. A group of women from North Williams Woman’s Dorm (where Norma lived) raised money for a campus charity event by shining shoes at the Phillips Hall Men’s Dorm (where I lived). I mentioned to a friend of mine that I thought the petite little brunette in the grey skirt was really nice, so he and his girlfriend arranged a blind date, and that was where it all began.

We were married during our senior year on September 8, 1956. We brought our first daughter Wende into the world in January of 1958. I went on active duty in the US Air Force in March 1958 and after flight training in 1959, was posted to RAF Station Sculthorpe, an airbase north of London. Because Air Force regulations did not permit women who were 6 months or more pregnant to fly on military aircraft, Norma had to stay home with my parents and deliver our second daughter, Erin, all by herself.

Because of more regulations regarding the age at which newborn babies could fly, I didn’t get to see and hold Erin until mid-summer of 1959. Our third child, and son Russell, was born in November of 1967 in Pontiac, Michigan, and Gretchen, our fourth and last, was born in Gainesville, Florida, in 1969.

We have been truly blessed as all of our kids are happily married, thankfully employed, and we have been blessed again with 7 grandchildren (6 boys and 1 girl) and thus far, 3 great-grandchildren (1 boy and 2 girls) who are now scattered around the country in Boston MA, Macon GA, Thompsons Sta. TN, Tuscaloosa AL, Denver CO, Seattle, WA, and Portland, OR.

What’s Happening with Norma?

We first noticed small changes in Norma’s condition and behavior during a river trip in 2015. She seemed to lack her usual amount of energy and enthusiasm. She tired quickly and seemed to want to sleep a lot more than necessary.

On one of the side trips, our small group had wandered farther than we thought. We soon realized that and had to run back to the ship before they left without us. Norma just couldn’t keep up the pace, and we literally had to carry her.

Shortly after, the falls began to occur, and she suffered some severe bruising on her head and back. This became a serious concern for us. After more testing, x-rays, and MRIs, she was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which explained some of the loss of balance and frequent falling. Then came the usual forgetfulness and memory loss.

Our doctor wasn’t available to meet with us one day, so we met with his PA. She ran some memory tests with Norma and suggested we meet with a neurologist. We did that, and he arranged for us to meet with the health psychologist for some additional testing. She ran Norma through several days of intensive testing and concluded that Norma was suffering from MCI.

The neurologist disagreed, calling it early Alzheimer’s, which was a shock for us. We didn’t believe anyone from our families had ever been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Late last year, our doctor downgraded her condition to the final stage of Alzheimer’s.

The Caregiver Dilemma

I truly believed that I could handle it and take care of her. Still, soon we had to hire someone to come in a couple of times a week in the morning to get her up, give her a bath, get her dressed, and sit with her while I got went out to do the running around that had to be done.

Then came numerous concerns and family debates about the need for a move to a retirement care community. That meant selling the house, liquidating many sentimental possessions, leaving a city and friends we truly enjoyed and loved, and moving up to Macon, GA, to be closer to our oldest daughter.

This was a heartbreaking time in our lives and very difficult for both of us. We made a move to a long-term care community in Macon during January of last year. With the endless help of our four kids and their families, it all went very smoothly. We settled into a two-bedroom apartment in independent living to begin yet another new chapter in our lives. 

The Tough Decision

We knew that we would have another tough decision about an eventual move into memory care. Still, we didn’t think it would happen so quickly. The mental decline and the falling continued.

We were blindsided when Norma began to wander. One day late in October, we were both in the apartment. I worked in the office, and Norma was reading in the living room while outside the staff was arranging chairs and tables for a late afternoon event.

Then, the doorbell rang, I opened the door, and there was Norma between two staff members holding her up by her arms. She had watched the people setting tables, so she went out of the patio door without the walker and stumbled out because she wanted to help.

Because wandering in an LTC community can become a significant liability issue, I answered the door again the next morning. I greeted the CEO and several other leadership team members, who kindly advised me that it was time to move Norma into memory care. I argued against it, assured them that it wouldn’t happen again, and provided ways and solutions to prevent it. They politely listened and gave us another chance.

Two weeks later, an identical situation occurred again. The doorbell rang, and there was Norma between the same two staff members. They found her riding up and down on the elevator. Somehow, she had gone out the front door, and I just didn’t hear her leave. The next morning, again, the doorbell and the leadership team, but this time there was no second chance.

In late November, we had to move Norma into memory care. 80 days later……COVID19!

Along Came COVID

Alzheimer’s is complicated, and COVID19 is complicated. Mix them together, and the result is toxic. The solution(s) will take patience, understanding, forgiveness, a smile, and a hug. Your loved one needs all of this.

I’ll take any kind of lifting of regulations that come along, but we’ve got a lot more lifting to go. Before COVID-19 and when Norma first went into memory care, our lives underwent a considerable change. It was easier for me because I had a massive amount of worrisome responsibility and weight taken off my shoulders.

For Norma, it was the exact opposite. She despised what was happening to her, and worse of all, she blamed me for “getting rid of her.” And that was like a blow to the heart, and it wasn’t the last time I would hear that accusation.

I could call her on the phone, go up to her room, sit with her, and hold her hand. I could check her out of memory care, take her down to our apartment, eat together, talk, watch TV, go shopping with her, go for a ride in the car, do all of the things that a happily married couple usually does. It was not the most excellent arrangement, but it was bearable.

We had a sense of togetherness, but I was still responsible for getting her back to her room that day. It sort of reminded me of getting your date back to her college dorm by 11pm.

Then came March 11, and all that was good became a nightmare and a bad dream.

Can I Talk to My Wife?

Presently, there are three communication/visitation methods for family members with loved ones in memory care.

Telephone. If your loved one can still independently use a phone or cell phone, you’re in luck, but that’s not the case with Norma. We must utilize the one phone (at the nurses’ station) available for resident use. That phone is still and, hopefully, without restrictions. Yet, often family members must make multiple calling attempts as the phone is being used by another resident. 

Video chat. Our memory care unit utilizes either Facetime or Zoom. We can do one 20 minute chat per week, but you must sign up in advance for a specific time and date. It works fine when all goes well, but Norma has difficulty holding the screen in place, so often, we’re looking at the ceiling or the chair across the room. Once the GA infection rates dropped below an established number, the rule got better. Now we have 2 visits per week and 1 video chat, but that is causing some confusion as a question has come up. The rule also states that if you do the visitations, you lose the video chat, but what if one does just 1 visitation instead of 2. Do you still lose the zoom? No one seems to know, and the one person that could solve the mystery has been gone for almost 3 weeks.

Visitation Booth. We are fortunate, as our LTC has built a visitation booth that enables us to visit with Norma. It’s 10 – 12 feet square with transparent Plexiglas walls, nicely appointed with cushion chairs, rugs, and plants. Norma sits inside, and up to three visitors sit outside the booth. There is still no physical contact, but you can see Norma and do the hands on the window thing (look but don’t touch).

Obviously, it’s better than the telephone or Facetime. It works very well, but often residents and/or visitors have difficulty hearing each other. We have solved that reasonably well by using two cell phones on the speaker. The staff is looking into some sort of 2-way speaker system, so it may become a reality if all of this goes long term.

We are allowed two 20 minute visits per week, and you must reserve a time and date in advance. For this to work efficiently, visitors must be allowed to access the property and enter the building. But when the state or county infection rates go up, and visitors are not allowed, the visitation booth has to close until the rates drop back to an acceptable level and visitors are again allowed access to the property.

Care Packages

There’s always the hope that written letters would work, but that doesn’t seem to be successful either. Norma cannot remember what she had for breakfast, if hard to put anything down on paper.

Emails and other forms of electronic communication obviously are out of the question. What I do that seems to work is to send up a care package on Friday afternoons. The weekends are slow in memory care (I think), so the care package gives her something to open and perhaps produce a little comfort and maybe put a smile on her face.

It’s just a manila envelope with a couple of newspapers, a magazine, a couple of candy nuggets (she a bit of a chocoholic), and a card with a remember photo (our kids, grandchildren, trips and vacations, friends, whatever, etc.)

What Does She Do All Day?

Norma remains under the “shelter in place” orders, with no visitors allowed into her room. There are daily activities for the residents, so I am told. Still, you don’t know which or any activity in which she participates. CNA’s and staff can encourage participation, but they can’t insist. You don’t want to continually bother staff, and I can’t ask Norma because she can’t remember. So I’m left in a state of constant uncertainty about what she does during the day.

What can I do to help with her care? Staff will insist she’s ok, but I can’t just sit and wonder.

The major problem that fuels my frustration and mental state of well-being is the landslide of federal and state rules and regulations that bury the healthcare facilities to the point that they can barely function properly.  CDC, CMS, DPH, HIPAA, (US Fish and Wildlife – who knows)? The frequency and requirements are so demanding that the facility is forced to hire additional staff to handle the paperwork. If you don’t, you have to overload existing staff, which takes them away from their primary function of caring for their residents. They literally are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Caregivers in Crisis

There are many sources of information about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Still, I would advise caregivers to learn as much as you can about the disease. Read, watch, listen, and talk to other caregivers because this is how you know how to approach the problems that come up between you and your loved one. Be willing to try new something different, improvise, and share. Your solution to a situation may help someone who is experiencing the same dilemma.

I have attended several meetings with dementia support groups, some of which I believe are organized by the Alzheimer’s Association. We had one going here at our facility, but that has been put on hold during the COVID19 crisis. I have made several inquiries about restarting the group utilizing one of the video chat forums, but nothing has materialized so far.

I think my most significant frustration is that I’m not in control. I’ve given that control over to the LTC. But, when problems arise, I sincerely believe that all issues have solutions. Still, solutions

have to be tested and proven feasible before they can be enabled and established.  But when you are tied up and unable to move by rules and regulations that perhaps have not been tested or discussed, then the problem persists and becomes impossible to solve.

I think our healthcare staff and nurses are doing their absolute best under these circumstances. Their job is made almost impossible with all the rules and regulations that change so quickly. I personally know that many of them love what they are doing. God bless them for doing and carrying that thought in their heart and soul.

To read more stories or to share your own, visit alz.org/honor

A Tidal Wave of Fundraising for Alzheimer’s

By Jamie Saunders

Each year, John Rowlands and Jan Giovingo looks forward to hosting the Run 2 End Alzheimer’s at the Landings in Warner Robins. With COVID encroaching on nearly every aspect of our lives, they knew the community fundraising event would have to be canceled. While disappointed, they didn’t let it get them down. Instead, they got together with Wes Weaver, site manager of the Tidal Wave Auto Spa in Kathleen, GA, who designated the Alzheimer’s Association as their designated charity for their annual Charity Day.

For the second consecutive year, Jim Farr of Tidal Wave Auto Spa had signed up to sponsor the Run 2 End Alzheimer’s. For 2020, due to the canceled run, Tidal Wave would take center stage in fundraising efforts. “Every Tidal Wave does their own charity day, so we represent approximately 50 charities in all. We host our events on the same day, so even though we might be representing different causes, it feels like we’re all on a singular mission. We all love it.”

What is unique about Tidal Wave’s commitment is that they donate 100% of the proceeds for their charity’s designated day. In this case, the Alzheimer’s Association received over $10,200 from this one day of car washing. That’s a lot of cars, 950, to be exact. As if that isn’t enough, they ensure a full staff, choose a busy Friday, and bring in an onsite radio station to advertise the event. Site manager Wes Weaver even came in early to catch the Chik-Fil-A traffic next door and make sure every hour of the day counted.


The generosity and spirit of the community in Warner Robins were on full display. Everyone involved recounted memories from the day. Highlights include one customer who wrote a check for $1,000 and tales of others who donated without even having their car washed or gave more than the cost of a wash.

Site manager Wes Weaver comments, “We worked from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm that day. Speaking for myself, Jim, and Tidal Wave, we love that we get to choose a day to give back. Every day we come in and make an effort to do the best we can. On this day, it’s not about us. Our goal is solely to wash as many cars as we can to make sure we give the maximum possible back. We go all out. It’s fun to watch everyone just so busy because we know that every wash is a donation to a great cause. We set records, washing more cars that we have ever washed. There is an aura of celebration about the wash. When the bell rings at the end of the day, we have a great sense of accomplishment.”

Continues Farr, “Bringing awareness to this cause is a big thing for me. I lost my Grandmother, Homer Knight, and my Aunt, Dot Greene, who was like a second mother. I grew up in the country, and I spent a lot of my childhood with her; our homes were almost interchangeable. Almost anyone you ask knows someone has had this disease or knows someone with it currently. To be able to donate in the hopes of finding a cure through important research means everything.”

And create awareness for Alzheimer’s they did. Rowlands recounts how the community joined them in promoting, working, and fundraising. Says Rowlands, “We had 21 volunteers from the Warner Robins and Macon offices of Synovus; they even invited their board to drive through the wash! We also had volunteers from our Run 2 End Alzheimer’s at the Landings committee, the Warner Robins Rotary Club, Georgia Power, Southern Classic Realtors, and The Miner Agency. Many of these folks made donations and also drove their vehicles through the wash and encouraged visitors to buy t-shirts and donate beyond a wash’s cost. It was an incredible display of humanity from our community just when we needed it most.”

Farr adds, “The people from the Alzheimer’s Association were there every step of the way as well. They really put a lot of effort behind the event and made sure we are supported for their cause. They stayed with us for all 11 hours of that day to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association.”

For Rowlands, it’s an incredibly moving and humbling experience each year. Having lost his father, Bob Rowlands, twin uncles, Don and Dan Rowlands, an aunt, and his Grandfather to Alzheimer’s, he knows the great need for support and research. Like this event, it’s a community affair and something no one should have to suffer alone.

“My dad was actually apart of a research program to try and stop this disease. I wanted to honor him by increasing awareness and raising funds for more research. Partnering with Tidal Wave and our other sponsors has exceeded any expectations I had. Everyone pitches in, friends and neighbors alike. Even with COVID canceling the run, it didn’t dampen the mood at all. Wes told me, “John, I’m going to get you $10,000,” and they did!”

Their efforts earned them the top fundraising spot for Central Georgia, and they’re not stopping anytime soon. Says Rowlands, “We are already committed to doing it again next year, and hopefully we’ll have the run in April of 2021, and raise even more.” Rowlands has also committed to serving as a member of the Georgia Alzheimer’s Association Board and raising awareness for the disease. Rowlands concludes, “Everyone I’ve worked with at the Alzheimer’s Association is very passionate about what they do. I’ve met people from the local and national offices. They are united in their mission to care for and support those with the disease and research until we find a way to eradicate it forever. I’m proud to serve and use my voice for this purpose.”

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