WAI hosts record number of attendees at 18th annual update

Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute (WAI) hosted the 18th Annual Update in Alzheimer’s disease and Related Dementias November 5-6, 2020. The event, held virtually for the first time, welcomed 388 attendees for its conference on Friday, November 5.

Dr. Carlsson introduces the WAI 18th Annual Update

The event was hosted by WAI and sponsored by Bader Philanthropies and Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Eligible attendees were able to receive CME credits through Wisconsin Medical Society.

The program began with a welcome from Sanjay Asthana, MD, Associate Dean for Gerontology, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and WAI Director Cynthia Carlsson, MD, MS.

Meeting virtually allowed WAI to welcome new attendees and open the event to a broader audience, Carlsson said, adding that she hoped the program would shine a spotlight on the layers of research and dementia care in Wisconsin.

“For those of you in attendance for the first time, we welcome you and hope that you’ll be able to learn from our team members and also think some more about how to creatively provide dementia care throughout your states or regions,” she said.

The conference featured a keynote by Abraham Brody, PhD, RN, FAAN, FPCN, and associate director of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing and associate professor of nursing and medicine at NYU Meyers College of Nursing. Brody’s work focuses on the intersection of geriatrics, palliative care, quality, and equity, with a primary goal of providing quality of life for older adults with serious illness.

The need for more thorough methods of providing clinical care became evident to him when he was first working in geriatrics and doing home visits, Brody said. He recalled one experience where he received a message from a nurse in an assisted living facility that a patient, a woman in her 90s with Parkinson’s and dementia, had become non-verbal and was close to death. When he visited her, he found she had an undiagnosed, significant pressure injury and likely delirium. Treatment of the pressure injury significantly improved her symptoms, he said. Situations like this made him realize there was a need for better training and methods of care for all people providing care for older patients, particularly those with dementia and behavioral symptoms, he said.

The event’s following session featured a presentation by Megan Zuelsdorff, PhD, about racism and dementia. Dr. Zuelsdorff is an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin School of nursing and an investigator in the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Her work has been drastically impacted by a realization that talking about disparities in public health is not sufficient unless the work explicitly places those disparities in the context of racism that people of color, particularly African Americans, experience.

“These impacts of racism are evidence based,” she said. “They are not opinion. They are not political.”

Understanding realities of racism and its resulting impacts on where African American or Hispanic people live, their access to education, financial and employment opportunities, means understanding the resulting disparities and poorer health outcomes they face do not “happen in a vacuum,” she said.

“These things are not random, this is not a behavioral choice, this is not a lifestyle choice,” Zuelsdorff said. “I think we need to imagine how racism is shaping all of the risk and protective factors that we’re studying or that we’re asking our patients to modify.”

Ozioma Okonkwo, PhD, presented research findings on the impacts of exercise on brain health and resilience to Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Okonkwo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an Alzheimer’s disease researcher. Research has found that negative effects of aging on brain can be diminished by cardio-respiratory fitness, he said. His talk described the sometimes significant impacts exercise can have on reducing dementia.

Featured Memory Clinics Aspirus Memory Clinic and Spooner Health Memory Clinic

Spooner Health Memory Clinic
– Spooner Health Memory Clinic
Aspirus Memory Clinic
– Aspirus Memory Clinic

The annual update also included recognition of two members of the WAI Affiliated Memory Diagnostic Network. Long-time network member Aspirus Memory Clinic of Wausau, Wisconsin. and Spooner Health Memory Clinic from Spooner, Wisconsin. were each recognized for their work providing care to people with dementia.

“We really want to thank them for all of their tireless work in their community,” Carlsson said. “We’re thrilled to recognize the strong work they’ve been doing and we thank you for providing good quality care.” The WAI Affiliated Dementia Diagnostic Clinic network currently has 41 members, including three new members: Marshfield in Wood County, St. Croix Regional Medical Center in Polk County, and Mile Bluff Memory Assessment Clinic in Juneau County.

The annual update began with a workshop for clinicians on Thursday afternoon. Susanne Seeger, MD, clinical professor of neurology University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, gave an overview of diagnosis and management of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Art Walaszek, MD, WAI public health leader, discussed behavioral management of patients living with dementia. Dr. Walaszek is professor, Vice Chair for Education and Faculty Development, Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

On Friday afternoon, the clinic network convened its members for a meeting. The members shared resources and support for providing dementia care. A panel discussion focused on telehealth practices and procedures necessitated by COVID-19, and members shared their findings and suggestions for optimizing telehealth for their patients.

More information about the WAI clinic network is online here. Save the date: the network will convene for its annual spring meeting on May 21, 2021 – hopefully in person!