Aging and Alzheimer’s disease

The United States is experiencing a rapid explosion in the number of older adults. Cognitive decline in older adults is a major public health issue due to its high prevalence and estimated cost at $203 billion per year. Therefore, understanding the brain changes associated with cognitive aging is of critical importance. Our ability to distinguish successful aging from mild cognitive impairment, a preclinical stage of dementia, remains limited. Identifying individuals with MCI is essential as they are at increased risk of progressing to dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. And it is even more important to identify individuals at risk for cognitive impairment as we know that neuropathology can accumulate decades before the onset of symptoms. While there are prospective disease-modifying treatments for Alzheimer’s disease on the horizon, there are still no effective diagnostic biomarkers. Brain imaging has emerged as a promising method for in vivo investigation of neural changes due to underlying neuropathology.

The lab’s current research program focuses on increasing our understanding of early brain changes in regions known to be selectively vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. We investigate executive functioning and memory systems using fMRI, MRI, and PET and explore whether these changes may be early and reliable clinical biomarkers of individuals at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

To address the concerns above, the lab investigates three main areas:

1) Neural alterations in brain structure, function and network connectivity in older adults with risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease

2) Genetic and lifestyle factors that interact to increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease

3) The combination of modifiable lifestyle factors that can improve brain health