Cognitive and Brain Health during Aging

Stone Owl, abstract

Held Friday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m. to noon

What do senior adults value? Maintaining independence, sustaining relations with family and friends, and making beneficial decisions. What are the greatest fears? Can older people continue to learn, to keep up with job trends, to operate new equipment? Many fear cognitive loss, dementia, or other diseases of the brain. What are scientists discovering that can help us protect our own mental edge?

As with Covid-19, intersecting contextual factors--from health disparities to retirement—affect brain health. A group of researchers at institutions in the Houston area are investigating how cognition and the brain change in aging as well as risk factors and possible treatments to slow or stop the development of dementia.



 Stephanie Leal photo  Memory in Healthy Aging and in Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease
Stephanie L. Leal, Ph.D., Rice University
Memory, a hallmark cognitive function, begins to decline with age and to erode even more as part of dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Even in healthy aging, the brain may undergo subtle changes that may impact memory function. These changes are further exacerbated in AD. I will discuss sensitive memory tasks we developed to examine age-related memory changes. Results may provide insight into the early detection of AD. I will also discuss findings linking age-related memory decline and the brain using high-resolution MRI and PET imaging technologies. 


Margaret Beier, Ph.D. photo  Implications of Life-span Learning and Development

Margaret Beier, Ph.D., Rice University
Researchers often focus on age-related declines rather than the development associated with lifelong learning. Focusing on working-age people (those between the ages of 18 and 70), I describe, first, age-related changes in abilities and motivation that affect lifelong learning, and second, research showing that older learners can and do learn when content is aligned with their prior knowledge and interests.

Luis Medina photo  Health Disparities in Aging and Dementia
Luis Medina, Ph.D., 
University of Houston
Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (AD/ADRD) are leading causes of death in the United States and the only ones that currently are without a cure. Age is the greatest risk factor for AD/ADRD, and as our population ages, these dementias are quickly becoming a significant public health problem. However, risk and prognosis for AD/ADRD does not appear to be the same across culturally and linguistically diverse groups (CALD). Questions remain surrounding the causes for these related health disparities. In this presentation, I will review the current trends in age- and AD-related health disparities with an emphasis on how these relate to the study of brain-behavior relationships. I will also discuss barriers to understanding these disparities as well as recommendations for addressing them.

Masdeu M.D. photo  Alzheimer’s: New Treatments for an Old Disease 
Joseph C. Masdeu, M.D. Ph.D., 
Houston Methodist
Under the brand name Aduhelm, the FDA recently approved the use of aducanumab for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Aducanumab is an antibody that binds amyloid beta, which accumulates in the brain of people who are going to have Alzheimer’s disease,10-15 years before symptoms begin. Aducanumab was shown by positron emission tomography to remove amyloid protein from the brain of people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s disease. However, the clinical benefit was minimal in one of the Phase 3 studies presented to the FDA and null in the other. If results of studies using similar antibodies are also considered, including a recent one using donanemab, it is likely that aducanumab may make a difference if used before tau, another key protein in development of Alzheimer's, spreads throughout the brain. This information is critical to ensure that people are treated who can benefit from this therapy.