JP Observer: Community people participate in Alzheimer’s studies

Not so long ago, it seems, getting Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was thought to be only a matter of fate. A person either came down with the chronic, debilitating disease—usually later in life—or didn’t.  Much about it was a mystery.

Now a center just several stops from JP on the Route 39 bus in the Longwood Medical Area is working to “assess promising new treatments for AD through clinical trails and to improve early diagnosis of AD by employing more sensitive clinical evaluations, biological markers, and neuroimaging techniques”—all with the help of volunteer participants. Similar studies are taking place at dozens of sites in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

The Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment (CART), under the direction of Dr. Reisa Sperling, is affiliated with the Department of Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. CART studies are sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the Alzheimer’s Association, and pharmaceutical companies.

Sperling says, “I absolutely believe Alzheimer’s disease is preventable.”

According to the CART website, “AD is the most common cause of dementia. It is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that results in decline in cognitive function, and inability to carry out activities of daily living. Typically, AD begins with impairment in short-term memory, and progresses to involve attention and organizational abilities, language, and visual perception. Changes in behavior, including loss of motivation, depression, irritability, and agitation are also common early on in AD.”

AD affects an estimated five million people in this country today.

CART is engaged in clinical research where participants undergo observational studies of cognitive function, behavior and daily functions, physical exams, blood tests, and brain scans. CART also has a therapeutic clinical trial where participants receive an experimental drug or a placebo to test new treatments for AD. Currently, 160 research participants from the Boston area and New England are enrolled across the various studies that included 1,500 appointments the past year.

Studies at CART offer an opportunity for ordinary people who are not necessarily scientists, but who care about their fellow human beings to be important participants in medical advances. Participants do not have to have signs of the disease to be in a study, and taking part can be very interesting and rewarding.

CART also provides innovative programs at area senior centers, independent and assisted living residences, and faith-based communities on “Memory, Aging and AD.”

At an unusual evening event on Nov. 7, a crowd of CART participants was served hors d’oeuvres and honored “for their time and dedication to Alzheimer’s research.” Twenty-five CART staff attended as well, including neurologists, neuropsychologists, research assistants, administrative assistants, project managers, outreach and recruitment assistants, and directors.

Director Sperling, along with Co-director Dorene Rentz, spoke about the positive outcomes research at CART can have, especially for future generations. To the participants Sperling said, “We could not do this without you.”

For more information, contact Leah Levine at 617-525-3167 or [email protected] or contact the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment, 60 Fenwood Road, Boston MA 02115, main line: 617-732-8085. You may also visit the website at

Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette. She is also a participant in an Alzheimer’s disease study.




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