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A tribute to our founder, Mark A. Sager, MD, professor emeritus, founding director, Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute and founding principal investigator, Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer's Prevention

Dr. Mark Sager’s career has been devoted to improving the lives of people struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Through clinical practice, professional education, outreach and research, his commitment has inspired fellow health care professionals and given encouragement and hope to patients and their families. He raised awareness of Alzheimer’s and dementia that has advanced knowledge, increased understanding and stimulated innovative ideas. His example of visionary leadership set a standard that will guide us into the future and forward to a cure. In gratitude, we celebrate his contributions and pledge to honor his legacy. His work gave us a foundation. His passion gives us a purpose.

 

It began with a simple statement: “You need to study me.”

 

Those were the words of Dr. Mark Sager’s late wife spoken one evening as they enjoyed a glass of wine in their backyard. As a physician and researcher, Dr. Sager wanted answers, specifically, answers to the diagnosis, progression and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, there was no research program; even if one existed, patients would not necessarily be able to participate due to the long gestation period prior to diagnosis and the debilitating effects of this cruel disease. “Who do you study?” Dr. Sager asked. His wife’s mother had developed Alzheimer’s so there was a chance that clues in her family history would help solve the mystery. Now Dr. Sager had a plan: he would study the children of people with Alzheimer’s.

 

Dr. Sager was one of the first researchers in the world to understand and study Alzheimer’s before the symptoms, before the clinical diagnosis. With Alzheimer’s disease currently the 6th leading cause of death and the most expensive condition to treat in the United States, investigating the right people at the right time presented the most promise for treatment and cure.

 

Established by Dr. Sager and his trusted friend and colleague, Dr. Bruce Hermann, the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP), studies people between the ages of 40 and 65 with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. The main goal of WRAP is to understand the factors (biological, medical, environmental, and lifestyle choices) that increase a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and are imperative in developing interventions that may protect against developing Alzheimer's disease.

 

Today, more than 1,500 people in 32 states—and several countries—have been recruited for WRAP. It is now the world’s largest and longest-running longitudinal study of adult children of parents with Alzheimer’s disease.


WRAP is one of the hallmarks of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute (WAI) for which Dr. Sager served as founding director. Another hallmark of the WAI developed by Dr. Sager is the WAI-affiliated Dementia Diagnostic Clinic Network in partnership with Bader Philanthropies, LLC, the state of Wisconsin and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. This group of over 40 clinics throughout Wisconsin provide diagnostic and treatment services to people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It is a national and international model of care and education providing support services to underserved and rural populations. Recognizing the emerging public health crisis Alzheimer's disease poses on African-American, Hispanic communities and other communities of color, the WAI developed yet another of its hallmarks, the WAI Milwaukee Office. Established in 2008, this program utilizes principles of grassroots engagement to increase the community’s infrastructure and capacity to improve services and care options for people living with various types of dementia and their families.

Dr. Mark Sager deserves the highest honors and a rest. His retirement is an opportunity to reflect on all he has accomplished and allowed those of us privileged enough to work along with him to achieve. Most important, it is an opportunity to say THANK YOU.


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