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Examining the Relationship Between Emotion and Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease

More than 5 million adults in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s Disease, and this population also experiences high rates of depression, anxiety, agitation, irritation and mood swings. Yet little is known about how emotions, such as the ability to regulate negative emotions, may be disrupted in Alzheimer’s. This study will increase our understanding of the role emotion plays in Alzheimer's Disease by measuring emotional responses in people with a high-risk for developing the disease, and could illuminate ways to increase the well-being of both people with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers. 

Study Details

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. 

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.

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
Research Program Manager, Institute on Aging
Sterling Johnson
Sterling Johnson
Professor in Department of Medicine - Geriatrics, UW-Madison
Stacey Schaefer
Stacey M. Schaefer
Leader of MIDUS Neuroscience Project and Co-Leader of MIDUS Admin Core, Institute on Aging
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