CHATHAM — When she's not spending time with her family in Chatham or volunteering for the town's Independence Day parade committee, Nicole Gullotti is helping fight a disease that afflicts more than 5 million Americans. She's part of a Boston University team that's conducting a host of studies and clinical trials to better understand Alzheimer's disease.
Gullotti's job is to recruit participants for the various studies at the B.U. Alzheimer's Disease Center, one of two sites in Boston that run clinical trials on new drugs, treatments and prevention strategies. The center isn't just about giving people experimental medications, she said. Some of the trials focus on exercise, and many of the studies involve cognitive testing.
But the center offers a free resource that can be very helpful for certain seniors, called the Health Outreach Program for the Elderly, or HOPE. Once a year, participants visit the center in Boston's South End, and spend four or five hours doing extensive testing. Researchers take a blood sample and carry out a complete physical and neurological exam, possibly including an MRI. The results are shared with the participant, but are otherwise kept confidential – even from insurance companies. It's a free service “with really no strings attached,” Gullotti said. For helping with the research, participants even receive a $25 gift card to Stop & Shop.
To learn more about the B.U. Alzheimer's Disease Center, visit www.bu.edu/alzresearch.
The HOPE evaluation is designed to detect changes in brain function over the years, and is conducted by experienced experts, not research assistants, she said. Should the researchers note serious changes in cognition, they'll share that information with the participant, offering referrals and other resources, both for the participant and for his or her family. When she's not working with the B.U. Team, Gullotti is a leadership volunteer with the Alzheimer's Association.
Alzheimer's disease is not the only potential source of memory loss or confusion in seniors and other adults, but it accounts for between 75 and 80 percent of dementia cases. While society now finds it easier to talk about the disease, it remains a frightening diagnosis, “because we really don't know how to treat it right now,” Gullotti said. There is also a stigma.
“No one wants to admit that they can't remember their grandchild's name,” she said.
While certain changes in cognition are to be expected as people get older – think about misplacing the car keys – the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are not a normal part of aging. The Alzheimer's Association (www.alz.org.) provides a list of warning signs, including the inability to remember information that was recently learned. While the lost car keys by themselves aren't cause for concern, if a person is unable to retrace his or her steps to find them, reconstructing recent events, it may be time to have a conversation with a physician.
“The biggest push in research now is the prevention clinical trials,” Gullotti said. The focus of much attention recently has been the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer's study, known as A-4. The study tests whether a new treatment using anti-amyloid antibodies can slow memory loss caused by Alzheimer's disease.
Other studies on people without Alzheimer's symptoms focus on genetics and drugs known as BACE inhibitors.
Participants in these studies and clinical trials always have the option to discontinue the treatment and opt out, should there be harmful side-effects.
For information on the Boston University Alzheimer's Disease Center, call 617-414-1077 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.