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Examining the Relationship Between Emotion and Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease

Center for Healthy Minds researchers are teaming up with Sterling Johnson, Associate Director of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, for a two-year study funded jointly by the National Institute on Aging and National Institute of Mental Health to examine how emotion may play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). 

Little is known about how emotional processes may be dysfunctional in AD, particularly during early stages of the disease, despite the fact that high rates of depression, anxiety, agitation, irritation and mood swings are reported in patients with AD.

Previous research has even suggested that individuals with depression have a greater risk of developing AD, or that late-life depression may be an early manifestation of the disease. This project will study how emotional responses differ in intensity and across time in preclinical AD, and how these emotional differences relate to memory and cognition changes, as well as to tau and amyloid levels (the pathological proteins that build up in AD). 

This works seeks to learn whether emotional problems in people with AD are the result of the brain changes associated with the disease and whether emotional problems may exacerbate and/or speed up the onset of clinical AD. We believe that learning how emotion is impacted as the AD pathology accumulates in the brain has the potential to both inform treatment and intervention development, and increase our functional understanding of the brain circuitry underlying emotion.

The study will enroll participants from the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP). The goal of the WRAP is to understand the factors (emotional, biological, medical, environmental and lifestyle choices) that increase a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The WRAP observes and tracks the characteristics and habits of two important groups of volunteers:

  • People who have one or both parents with Alzheimer's disease (the family history group)
  • People whose parents lived to old age with no signs of Alzheimer's disease or other serious memory problems (the control group)

WRAP volunteers undergo extensive data collection every 2-4 years, including cognitive assessment, brains scans and detailed emotional response measurement. Many of the WRAP volunteers have been followed for over 10 years.

If you are interested in volunteering or contributing to this important research, please visit the WRAP recruitment website

For other research opportunities for AD patients and/or caretakers, please visit the Alzheimer's Association informative website.

For questions related to this study, please contact Principal Investigator Stacey Schaefer.

The Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer's Prevention is actively recruiting.
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People Working on This Study

Richard J. Davidson
Founder, Center for Healthy Minds & Healthy Minds Innovations, William James & Vilas Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry
Lauren Gresham
Senior Research Specialist, Center for Healthy Minds
Sterling Johnson
Sterling Johnson
Professor in Department of Medicine - Geriatrics, UW-Madison
Mike Kelly
Mike Kelly
Research Specialist, Center for Healthy Minds
David Lee
David Lee
Research Specialist, Center for Healthy Minds
Stacey Schaefer
Stacey Schaefer
Associate Scientist, Center for Healthy Minds
Laurel Quinlan
Laurel Quinlan
Associate Research Specialist, Center for Healthy Minds
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