As a Penn MPH student, I wondered how Penn researchers could strengthen their relationship with West Philadelphians. Working with Dance for Health in the spring enabled me to give back to the research community through social dance classes. Dance for Health (DFH), a partnership between the Penn Memory Center and Ralston House, creates a space for older adults in Philadelphia to get active through dance and preserve their cognitive health.
In the beginning, I was unsure if I would take part in learning the dance routines. I had never taken a line dancing class; but when the music started, it felt natural to join in. Dancing with DFH participants every Saturday helped me connect with them. Each time I started dancing on the wrong foot or turned left instead of right, I was encouraged to keep going by the DFH participants’ warm smiles.
As the weeks progressed, I noticed the dance instructors were not giving us as many instructions as they used to. I realized then that the instructors were testing participants’ memories of the choreography. I also looked forward to strengthening my relationship with DFH participants each Saturday and learned that they enjoyed the social aspect of the program as well. The older adults told me they appreciated that DFH provided them with a break from their usual routine and a chance to connect with others. Some participants brought friends or family members to class while others enjoyed making new friends and bonding over shared experiences between dances.
Interestingly enough, previous research suggests a positive correlation between social interaction and health. Working with DFH, I was able to witness firsthand how social dance can bring you joy and health.
Danielle Kennedy was a 2017-2018 Penn Memory Center intern.
Editor’s Note: Here at the Penn Memory Center, the communications team has been trying out a weekly letter we call “Sunday Reads” to keep you updated on what’s been happening and what we’re currently reading in our office. To see this in your inbox first, fill out your name and email address at the top of your screen or email email@example.com.
September at the Penn Memory Center is marked by leaves yellowing outside our research offices in Ralston, by a new crop of student interns joining our buzzing teams, and by the opening of the Philly opera season.
At first glance, we (a medical center) have very little to do with the opera. But just a few months ago, Opera Philadelphia came to us with an exciting idea: to create an opera centered around Alzheimer’s disease.
The truth is: if you sit in on one of our diagnostic meetings, you’ll quickly find there’s no one typical story of this disease. But what we hear about Alzheimer’s disease in our general media too often follows the same plot.
Sky on Swings seeks to change that.
PMC Co-Director Dr. Jason Karlawish worked with Opera Philadelphia on a chamber opera told through the eyes of a person living with Alzheimer’s disease. He’s hopeful that it will show a story beyond “just a wasted mind engaging in meaningless and intentionless activities, that there’s a person there who’s suffering but also trying to make sense of and enjoy life.
PMC neurologist Jerry Mikszewski, MD, Clinical Associate of Neurology at the Perelman School of Medicine, announced his retirement on Friday. In his time at the Penn Memory Center, Dr. Mikszewski has been an integral member of the PMC clinical team. A neurologist, his expertise in dementia and cognitive impairments has been invaluable for the care of PMC patients and the education of the PMC community.
“It has been truly a pleasure working with Jerry during his time at Penn,” David Wolk, MD, PMC Co-Director, says. “I believe we have all learned much from him and his unique perspective on the care of patients with cognitive impairment and dementia. I also greatly appreciate his kind manner and gentle humor – I am sure his patients do as well!”
Felicia Greenfield, Executive Director, says, “I will miss working with Jerry. His unwavering support of the social work team demonstrated his commitment to improving patient outcomes. I will miss his welcoming smile and his warm, approachable demeanor. I wish Jerry and his family all the very best on this new chapter in life. He will be missed!”
By Erin Alessandroni
The number of Alzheimer’s cases and related deaths has been sharply increasing, making it what some call a “global epidemic” and “public health crisis”. While the cost of care to our nation is rising, research shows that early diagnosis of cognitive decline could lead to individual and national long-term savings.
This year’s Alzheimer’s Disease 2018 Facts and Figures report includes the alarming fact that by 2025, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is estimated to reach 7.1 million, an increase from the 5.5 million age 65 and older affected in 2018.
By Joyce Lee
In the world of clinical research, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) studies stand out due to their requirement of study partners: often a spouse, child, or close friend who provides support for the patient undergoing memory testing, MRI brain scans, and trial drug infusions.
But the importance of study partners also extends to the preclinical setting. As researchers start to study and identify individuals at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease with genes and biomarkers, study partners can help reduce participants’ anxiety and distress, report to researchers how participants are doing, and ensure findings of these studies have practical applications.
This is why Penn Memory Center Co-Director Jason Karlawish, MD, and University of California, Irvine Professor Joshua Grill, PhD, argue that study partners should be required in all preclinical Alzheimer’s disease studies. Their review article was published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy.
by Erin Alessandroni
Research advances across a broad array of topics were revealed at the 2018 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago. Several Penn Memory Center researchers had the opportunity to both learn from and share the latest updates with international leaders in dementia science.
It was announced that a workgroup of multidisciplinary experts, including PMC Co-Director Jason Karlawish, MD, was convened by the Alzheimer’s Association to create best practice guidelines for dementia in primary care. Dr. Karlawish highlighted the importance of “knowledgeable informants” in the creation of these guidelines in a comment to Philly.com.
Another widely discussed announcement was that an investigational drug by Biogen and Eisai was shown to reduce amyloid plaques in the brains of dementia patients and slow progression of the disease. PMC Co-Director David Wolk, MD told WHYY, “It’s a very promising result,” but cautioned that more research is needed before the drug can be prescribed. Similarly, Dr. Karlawish told The Wall Street Journal that “he would like to see the companies conduct a larger, longer study to further assess the drug’s risks and benefits.”
By Erin Alessandroni
Research suggests that cognitive complaints are associated with greater self-reported negative psychological feelings. This relationship could have implications on Alzheimer’s prevention trials and management of clinical populations in research.
PMC Co-director Jason Karlawish, MD; PMC Scholar Shana Stites, PsyD, MS, MA; PMC Senior Research Coordinator Kristin Harkins, MPH; and Manager of Psychometrics for the National Board of Medical Examiners Jonathan Rubright examined the relationship between self-reports of cognitive complaints and quality of life in people with varying degrees of cognitive impairment. Their findings were published in the Alzheimer’s Disease & Associated Disorders International Journal.
By Erin Alessandroni
Penn Memory Center Director of Cognitive Fitness Programs and Neuropsychological Services Dawn Mechanic-Hamilton, PhD, ABPP/CN, recently received an Institute on Aging (IOA) pilot grant for a project focused on apathy in patients with neurodegenerative disease. The grant for her project, titled “Development of a Goal-Directed Behavior App: Changing Apathy into Action in Neurodegenerative Disease,” began on July 1.
In dementia patients, apathy, or impairment of goal-directed behavior, is a symptom that has a significant negative impact on a patient’s ability to engage in everyday activities and can increase care partner burden. The project aims to develop a mobile app that will increase goal-directed behavior and decrease apathy by targeting behaviors like motivation, planning, and initiation, with an emphasis on individualized patient goals. The app will measure progress and outcomes for both the patient and care partner.
Adapted from an Alzheimer’s Association statement.
There are no universal, multidisciplinary guidelines for clinicians in Alzheimer’s (AD) care, often leading to symptoms going unrecognized or misattributed.
In response, the Alzheimer’s Association convened a group dedicated to creating best practices for clinicians. This group, which includes PMC Co-Director Jason Karlawish, MD, intends for these guidelines to improve timely and accurate diagnosis and disclosure of AD and other dementias, according to an Alzheimer’s Association press release.