Remember Me: Dementia Research at CBCS

This year, the theme for World Alzheimer's Month 2015 is Remember Me.  For persons with dementia, remembering people, events, and even themselves is problematic.  For persons caring for someone with dementia, it is difficult to watch their loved ones suffer from a progressive and degenerative neurological disorder. 

The World Health Organization estimates globally a new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds somewhere in the world every day.  Approximately 48 million people have dementia worldwide, and there is an estimated 8 million new cases every year.  Further, by 2050, the incidence of dementia is expected to triple, affecting 135 million people.

Although there new treatments are being developed every day, there is no cure, yet.  However, best practices for dementia care include early diagnosis, increasing physical health, cognition, and well-being; identifying and treating symptoms of other physical illnesses; screening for and treating behavioral disorders, and providing information and long-term support to caregivers. 

In honor of World Alzheimer’s Month, the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences is showcasing its research in dementia, cognitive tools, and policy surrounding issues common to Alzheimer’s patients, their families, and providers of care.

Identifying predictors of change can dramatically affect treatment outcomes and help forestall cognitive decline.  Drs. Ross Andel,  Alyssa Gamaldo, and Brent Small investigate modifiable risk factors for cognitive impairment that may occur in an individual’s environment.  Dr. Ross Andel is particularly interested in the role of occupational environment in cognitive change and cognitive impairment.  Dr. Alyssa Gamaldo examines fluctuations in cognitive performance within an individual and cognitive performance differences between individuals, with a focus on health indices (hypertension and sleep) and socio-demographic factors.  Dr. Brent Small examines measures of cognitive performance as a means of identifying individuals who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

How memory is affected by aging can answer questions such as why older adults have more difficulty in finding the words they want to express an idea or maintaining attention on a task.  Dr. Cathy McEvoy has found that older adults become more reliant on their long-term prior knowledge and less reliant on immediate memory processes.  This has implications for the development of interventions for memory improvement and maintaining cognitive abilities.  Dr. Jerri Edwards looks at how cognitive interventions (aka brain fitness  programs or brain games) can assist older adults to improve their driving fitness and cognitive training strategies to remediate cognitive decline that results in driving difficulties.  Dr. Michelle Bourgeois develops interventions for caregivers to improve communicative interactions with persons who have dementia as well as memory aids for persons with dementia.  Since reading ability is relatively stable, providing written cues with pictures can help prompt individuals with dementia to remember people and events, as well as daily living activities, such as why eat or shower.

The importance of caregiver supports for individuals taking care of persons with dementia cannot be overestimated.  Dr. William Haley focuses on stress, coping, and adaptation in older adults and their family members as well as the development and evaluation of psychosocial interventions to improve the adaptation of older adults facing stressful circumstances.   

As persons with dementia move from home-care to long-term care and hospice care, staff in those facilitlies assume primary responsibility for their care.  Dr. Debra Dobbs works on advance care planning education among providers of care for persons with dementia.  Dr. Iraida Carrion examines cultural diversity in residential settings and how understanding cultural differnces may help to improve care for persons with dementia.

Techonology can be an effective instrument to screen for dementia, develop  as well as to prevent falls comon in the elderly or elopment as dementia progresses.  Drs. Ross Andel, Jerri Edwards, and William Kearns are involved in the innovative development and uses of technology in spatial navigation performance.  Dr. Andel has identified amnestic mild cognitive impairment as an indicator of dementia using the Hidden Goal Task.   Dr. Edwards uses   computer-based programs to train processing speed in older adults, which results in better performance on tasks of instrumental activities of daily living. Her work on “useful field of view’ is critical for driving performance and is shown to reduce the number of dangerous maneuvers on real roads.  Dr. Kearns has shown that a measure of movement path variability, known as path tortuosity, varies in proportion to cognitive decline and predicts impending falls in older adults.

Thse are just a few of the areas in which CBCS faculty work to improve the lives, care, and treatment of persons with dementia, their caregivers, and professional staff.  For more information about their work, check out the CBCS website. If you are interested in particpating in brain training studies, please contact the USF Cognitive Aging Lab at (813)974-6703.

The College of Behavioral and Community Sciences at the University of South Florida enrolls nearly 2,200 students and includes the Departments of Child and Family Studies, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Criminology, Mental Health Law and Policy, and Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling as well as the School of Aging Studies and School of Social Work.  It also inlcludes the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI), which was created over 30 years ago by the Florida Legislature to expand our knowledge about how best to serve the mental health needs of Florida's citizens.