Published May 9, 2022
Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, and memory loss are difficult topics to discuss with loved ones, and to face individually. However, insights from the University at Buffalo’s Brain Train program can make a real difference.
The program helps the community better understand brain health and disease, maintain quality of life, and recognize positive impacts of healthy habits on aging.
“The main premise of Brain Train is to provide local presentations about keeping your brain healthy,” says Allison Case, RN. “We also talk about dementia — early symptoms and different stages — and share some of the research behind it.”
The Brain Train team includes Case, UB graduate student Mallory Ziegler, and Kinga Szigeti, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Director of the Alzheimer‘s Disease and Memory Disorders Center, Department of Neurology, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Together, they work to offer both practical and science-based information, explore and tackle barriers to participating in research, and ask and answer questions from the audience members.
“Our focus at the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center has been early diagnosis and treatment,” says Szigeti. “We try to catch Alzheimer’s Disease and treat it at its earliest stages, ideally before it starts or when only mild symptoms, such as a little forgetfulness, are present.”
The Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center at the Jacobs School collaborates with the New York State Department of Health as one of 10 Centers of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease. “Our mandate is to transform the care of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in the seven-county region by focusing on screening, early diagnosis and treatment, thus mitigating the impact of the disease on patients, families and caregivers as well as its public health impact,” Szigeti says.
The Brain Train experience
Brain Train is one effort by which UB investigators are attempting to decrease the effects of Alzheimer’s, and organizers say they see this impact with each session.
“The presentations have inspired a great response,” Case says. “Our goal is to build relationships with people who wouldn't normally seek treatment earlier. We’re also trying to reduce the stigma of saying, ‘Do I have trouble with my memory?’ People don’t want to hear that, or feel like their independence is going to be taken away. So, we’re trying to reach out to the community in order to get people diagnosed sooner.”
Ziegler describes Brain Train as a “powerful and unique experience.” It is presentation-based, and Case explains that it is geared toward “anyone! That could mean family members, caregivers, or individuals who are experiencing symptoms themselves.”
“Our focus is to try to educate seniors in vast communities from a variety of backgrounds, build a relationship with these individuals, and try to improve their overall quality of life,” adds Ziegler. “We feel, and research shows, that an earlier diagnosis leads to an open door for future care and treatment. Overall, we strive in our sessions to make senior citizens aware of Alzheimer’s Disease versus normal aging, as it can facilitate a timely medical intervention.”
One of the Brain Train team’s current goals is attracting a more diverse audience. This includes reaching out in the City of Buffalo as well as to underserved rural populations in Erie County and beyond. “We want to make sure our message reaches all audiences,” Case explains.
No matter the audience, Brain Train presentations are designed so attendees will have clear and actionable takeaways.
“Attendees learn how to keep their brain healthy, and about things like diet, exercise, social interaction, and physical activity,” Case says. “And then we go into the signs of early dementia. At the end, we touch on some research opportunities and answer questions from the audience.”
A positive focus
Dementia and aging are topics many people are hesitant to discuss, and that is why the Brain Train approach — with a positive focus on healthy aging and healthy habits — encourages engagement and conversation.
“We want our attendees to understand how to keep themselves healthy and keep living their lives as they are now,” Case says. “People seem very receptive to our message. There are a lot of good questions at the end, and some attendees stay after to get even more information.”
Ziegler has first-hand experience as a family member of someone with Alzheimer’s. “When I was attending Binghamton University, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, and I was absolutely heartbroken,” she says. “My relationship with her has drastically changed, and I miss those conversations we used to have.”
Seeing the effects of Alzheimer’s on her grandmother has shown Ziegler why Brain Train is so important — and can be so impactful.
“I feel incredibly grateful to spend my time and energy researching Alzheimer’s Disease, and educating senior populations on signs, symptomatology, brain morphological changes, and overall ways to keep your brain healthy in efforts of prevention of Alzheimer’s,” she says.
A list of upcoming Brain Train presentations in the community, including multiple presentations scheduled for the summer months, can be found on the UB Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center page on Facebook.