More than 50 UW-Madison researchers presented work at the 2018 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Chicago, Illinois, this week. The event is the world’s largest gathering dedicated to the scientific study of dementia.

Key highlights from University of Wisconsin researchers include:

  • Patients who have symptoms of depression and apathy in mid- and late-life are at an increased risk for developing dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment, a condition that affects memory and thinking skills, according to work done by Dr. Mary Wyman, a clinical psychologist with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. These findings will help doctors talk to their patients about brain health and reducing risk for Alzheimer’s disease. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, placing increased importance on prevention and minimizing risk factors.
  • Mild sleep-disordered breathing can result in decreased oxygen levels in the brain and shrinkage in the hippocampus (a part of the brain associated with both long-term and short-term memory), according to research done by Chase Taylor, research specialist with the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but this work shows that less severe sleep disturbances in middle-aged adults may also affect brain health. Taylor’s research contributes to a body of science showing a link between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, which may provide another reason for doctors to assess sleep disorders in their patients.
  • Caregiver support interventions that involve meetings in caregivers' homes make participation in support programs easier for African-American caregivers, according to Dr. Sheryl Coley, a research scientist with the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute, who works to evaluate culturally tailored support programs to help reduce caregiver burden among African-Americans and help caregivers take care of themselves. People caring for family members with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias often report struggles with depression, stressful family dynamics, and health concerns of their own; these caregiver stressors are more prevalent among African-Americans, a population that experiences Alzheimer’s disease at twice the rate as whites. The study is still in progress and her initial results also suggest other factors that influence caregivers' ability to participate include: caregivers' beliefs about getting help from outside sources, family dynamics between primary caregivers and other family members that share caregiving responsibilities, and the overall health of their relatives with dementia.
  • Over the last three years, more than 600 individuals have participated in the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute Dementia Diagnostic Clinic, with most rating the experiences as excellent. That results in an improvement in quality of care that patients around the state receive, according to Dr. Mora Pinzon, assistant researcher at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and fellow with the Department of Population Health Sciences. The network was established in 1998 as a way to improve access to quality memory care in rural and underserved areas around Wisconsin. The institute shares quality clinical practices, educational resources, and research opportunities with the 35 clinics in its network. Over the last 12 years, clinic network professionals have evaluated 19,000 patients, helping to improve memory care access and diagnosis across the state.