David A. Bennett, M.D., director of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, didn’t mince words when addressing residents who packed the East Room of Montgomery Place, on a recent Friday evening. “I need your brain,” he said to close to 100 residents and guests of the life plan community at 5550 South Shore Dr. “In fact, I need a lot of brains. That’s what brings me here on a Friday night when I’d rather be at home, enjoying a glass of wine with my wife.”
Rush’s Memory and Aging Project is funded by the National Institute on Aging. Urging Montgomery Place residents to sign up, Dr. Bennett explained that study participants benefit from valuable knowledge about how they are faring in terms of their cognitive abilities. With the individual’s permission, testing and pathology results also can be shared with family members. Otherwise, results would be kept confidential.
Today, much more is known about Alzheimer’s disease than when Dr. Bennett first began tracking the disease more than 25 years ago. His study started by focusing on Catholic-communities of nuns and priests, who lived communally, which saved researchers travel time. Their similar backgrounds also limited variables that might affect study results.
Dr. Bennett later broadened his research to the general population. He now recruits from senior living communities in northeastern Illinois.
For the Montgomery Place crowd, Dr. Bennett drove home his message that more study is needed to continue making strides in addressing this disease which steals precious memories, language and logical thinking—a disease which still has no cure.
“Montgomery Place residents are very open to adding to new knowledge in this field of study, and senior communities like Montgomery Place enable Dr. Bennett to reach more people,” said Deborah Hart, CEO of Montgomery Place. “Participation is fairly easy because researchers come to where study participants live. For the researchers, being able to meet with several people at one location cuts down time spent tracking subjects.”
Hart added that residents were “eager to learn more about the latest findings.” Some of those findings, according to Dr. Bennett, include ways to slow or prevent the disease, including regular exercise, healthy diet, good sleep habits and avoiding isolation. Being genetically lucky enough to have an outsized brain with extra gray matter also may stave off the disease.
Montgomery Place residents already live a preventative lifestyle with plenty of opportunities to socialize, exercise and eat a healthy diet, and they remain active and intellectually engaged.
With the assistance of Montgomery Place’s concierge and activity coordinator Creshanna Henry, residents arranged for Dr. Bennett’s presentation. “This lecture was one of our regular Friday night lectures and very well attended,” said Alex Elwyn, a retired nuclear physicist who introduced the speaker and serves on the Montgomery Place resident council activities committee.
Memory and Aging Project participants must be considered legally able to donate their organs. In addition to providing family histories, they take personality tests and answer questions testing their cognitive abilities. Study participants also give blood samples and schedule MRI mapping of their brains. At the end of their lives, their brains will be donated for scientific study.
“We also take a bit of the spinal cord,” Dr. Bennett added, “but for open face caskets, no one has been able to tell.”
A palpable silence settled over the crowd with this statement. Even so, after the presentation, numerous guests and residents approached Dr. Bennett to ask questions about the disease and the study. So far, eight Montgomery Place residents have joined the study, and more are considering signing up.
To learn more about participating in the Memory ang Aging Project, visit www.rushu.rush.edu/radc or call 312-942-2214. “Our goal is to support residents who are participating in this study and to be supportive of the important work being done by Rush researchers,” Hart said.