The National Institutes of Health has targeted 2025 as the year we will have effective diagnostics and treatments for Alzheimer’s.

8 ways to help find answers for Alzheimer’s

World Alzheimer’s Day is Sept. 21; here’s what you can do to help Arizona State University scientists address and arrest the disease

By Dianne Price

Diego Mastroeni was 17 years old when he walked his best friend into a nursing home — this was the man who taught him how to garden, and the man whom he taught to speak English. It was a moment that would change Mastroeni’s life forever. His best friend was Giuseppe Abramo, Diego’s beloved grandfather. Abramo, an Italian immigrant and a soldier in World War II, suffered a slow and torturous decline into Alzheimer’s. Since Abramo could be combative, only his grandson could safely escort him to his new home.

Today, Mastroeni is a lead neuroscience researcher at the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center at Arizona State University. He, along with a legion of scientists — both at the university and beyond — are working furiously to untangle some of the wicked questions that have made it impossible to find effective diagnostics, treatments or cure for a disease that is likely to affect nearly every one of us at some point in our lives — either as a family member, caregiver or a patient.

Alzheimer’s is an equal opportunity scourge. It attacks women more than men; blacks twice as often as whites; and Hispanics at 1½ times more than white Americans. Arizona’s aging population gives researchers special incentive to be on the front lines of discovery when it comes to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Arizona is first in the nation for proportional increases of Alzheimer’s and dementia between now and 2025.

But, we are making tracks. The National Institutes of Health has targeted 2025 as the year we will have effective diagnostics and treatments for Alzheimer’s. Scientists at ASU have developed a simple blood test that will identify the start of Alzheimer’s much earlier in life — which they hope will provide opportunities to address and arrest the disease at far earlier stages.

Here are eight ways you can help support and speed up those answers — and there are more ways to give than money.

The Charlene and J. Orin Edson Initiative for Dementia Care and Solutions: In March 2019, Charlene and J. Orin Edson made a significant gift to Arizona State University to help scientists help us get ahead of the challenges that Alzheimer’s presents. The Edson gift is supporting research at the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center at the Biodesign Institute, where a team of world-class scientists are already making new discoveries — knowledge that is making inroads into the tough questions that have long stood in the way of finding the answers we need.

How you can help: Support biomedical research into detection, treatments and understanding Alzheimer’s

The Dementia Translational Science Initiative: The mission of the Dementia Translational Science Initiative at Edson College is to advance cutting-edge research that enhances the quality of life of people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, as well as their family caregivers. The initiative will bring together fellow researchers and community partners who represent the diverse communities of Arizona, our nation and the world.

How you can help: Help us help the helpers
(On the giving page, select “Write in” under “Supporting” and type Dementia Translational Science Initiative in the pop-up window)

The Simulation and Learning Resource Center at the Mercado on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus provides a clinical simulation experience to future nurses and caregivers. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Sun Devil Caregiver Academy: Aimed at translating research into application, the Sun Devil Caregiver Academy was recently launched to gain a stronger understanding of what family caregivers and professionals need to better navigate the Alzheimer’s journey — both for themselves and their patient. A strong focus is being placed on identifying opportunities posed by new technologies to create tools that will help ease the challenges faced by caregivers who are housebound, employed or live in rural areas.

How you can help: Create new tools and technologies to ease the caregiving challenge
(On the giving page, select “Write in” under “Supporting” and type Sun Devil Caregiver Academy in the pop-up window)

The journey of Alzheimer’s disease is unpredictable, baffling, a loss for the sufferer, painful for the family — yet can offer unexpected gifts. So, too, there have been insights and advances to better understand the disease and provide better care.

Banner-ASU Neuroscience Scholars: Banner-ASU Neuroscience Scholars is a paid, eight-week training program open to top-achieving college undergraduate and graduate science students. Scholars work full time on a research project under the mentorship of a Banner Research or ASU-Biodesign scientist to unlock medical and scientific mysteries in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, in a lab setting in the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area. Find out more about how to become a neuroscience scholar.

How you can help: Encourage future neuroscientists

Bimonte-Nelson Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging laboratory at ASU: Did you know that nearly two-thirds of the more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women — and two-thirds of the more than 15 million caregivers in the U.S. are women? At the Bimonte-Nelson Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging laboratory at ASU, researchers are working to understand, and discover new treatments for, memory and brain changes that occur with menopause and aging. Research includes factors relevant to Alzheimer’s disease-related variables. Dr. Heather Bimonte-Nelson and her students are seeking to identify new approaches to protect the brain and cognition against age- and neurodegenerative-related changes so that women can have the highest quality of life possible.

How you can help: Fund research to help us better understand how dementia affects women’s health

Heather Bimonte-Nelson describes her approach to critical thinking as encouraging her students to take a 30,000-foot view. She encourages her students to look at the jigsaw puzzle pieces — the hormones, their interactions and brain connections — all together. In 2018, she was named Bioscience Educator of the Year.

Banner Health Brain and Body Donation Program: The Brain and Body Donation Program (BBDP) is a study of the health and diseases of elderly volunteers who live in metropolitan Phoenix. Researchers study the volunteer’s function during life and their organs and tissue after death. The program provides tissue, biomaterials and biospecimens to qualified researchers at Arizona’s universities and worldwide.

How you can help: Sign up to donate your brain

The Center for Innovation in Healthy & Resilient Aging: ASU’s new center will bring together the best and the brightest to address issues — from the personal to policies — that affect aging individuals and society. Faculty, staff and students participate in two-way research and knowledge transfer that helps the university community, its partners and the communities we serve better understand and address aging issues.

How you can help: Give support to caregivers and communities
(On the giving page, select “Write in” under “Supporting” and type Center for Innovation in Healthy & Resilient Aging in the pop-up window)

As soon as 2030, for the first time in America’s history, there will be more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 18. ASU has launched the Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging with an eye toward caring for an aging population.

Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium: The Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium is the nation’s role model for statewide collaboration in Alzheimer’s disease research. The consortium capitalizes on its participating institutions’ complementary strengths in brain imaging computer science, genomics, the basic and cognitive neurosciences and clinical and neuropathology research to promote the scientific understanding and early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and find effective disease-stopping and prevention therapies. It also seeks to educate Arizona residents about Alzheimer’s disease, research progress in the state and the resources needed to help patients, families and professionals manage the disease. The Consortium’s goal is to find effective treatments in the next 12 years to halt the progression and prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

How you can help: Help Arizona lead

Chances are that you or someone you love will face the struggles that come with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by 2025, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to reach 7.1 million people, a staggering 27% increase from the 5.6 million age 65 and older in 2019.

Another Arizona-based Alzheimer’s organization offers an opportunity for you to test your own memory with an online quiz called Mindcrowd. By taking the 10-minute test, you’ll receive an evaluation of the strength of your memory and, more importantly, your anonymous information will help power up a database that is already helping researchers find new answers.

Alzheimer’s is gaining on us. It’s time to pick up the pace.

About ASU Foundation

The foundation, a subsidiary of ASU Enterprise Partners, is a private, nonprofit organization that raises and invests private contributions to Arizona State University. It is one of Arizona’s oldest nonprofits.

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