While considering whether to go to medical school, Dana Alliance member Reisa Sperling, M.D., noticed her grandfather had started to act strangely. She only later realized that he had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. His death when she was a neurology resident, along with her father’s diagnosis, influenced her decision to focus her research on the early detection of Alzheimer’s. She is now the director of clinical research at the Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Sperling discussed her personal experience with the disease, and her ongoing research, in a fall interview for the Harvard Medical Labcast.
Starting last week (April 23), the New York Academy of Sciences began airing weekly episodes of the new podcast series, Dementia Decoded. Sponsored by the Dana Foundation, the five-part program aims to educate the public on topics such as the history of Alzheimer’s disease, prevention, risk reduction, diagnosis, and care. The episodes also feature different specialists in the field, including our very own Dana Alliance members: Richard Mayeux, M.D., Reisa Sperling, M.D., and Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D. (Tanzi was just acknowledged by TIME Magazine as one of the world’s top influential figures of the year for his work on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.)
Today is Alzheimer’s Action Day. In recognition of that, I interviewed Dana Alliance member Reisa Sperling, M.D., the director at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
How can someone tell the difference between normal cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease?
It’s part of normal aging to have momentary lapses where you can’t remember where you put your keys or the name of the actress you saw in a movie last week. What I think is not normal is forgetting you went to the movies at all or forgetting you drove your car that day. It is somewhat a matter of degree. It’s whether you remember that you forget. If you are actively searching for your keys, that is part of normal aging. But some people forget they even lost their keys. It’s hard to have an absolute answer because the earlier you go back in Alzheimer’s disease the closer it gets to what is probably the overlap with normal aging. I try to determine the difference.
As researchers home in on biomarkers that will help doctors track whether their patients are progressing toward dementias like Alzheimer’s disease (AD), how should treatment and policy change? Three experts traced what we’ve learned about the aging brain, how we can apply scientific findings to give patients better care, and what social policies would help society navigate the medical advances during an event last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC.