Dr. Sager’s mission to study Alzheimer’s disease began with a simple statement: “You need to study me.”
Those were the words of Sager’s wife one evening as they enjoyed a glass of wine in their backyard. As a physician and researcher, Sager wanted answers. Specifically, he wanted answers to explore the diagnosis, progression and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, there was no such large-scale research program; and even if one existed, patients would not necessarily be able to participate due to the long period prior to diagnosis and the debilitating effects of disease. “Who do you study?” he asked. His wife’s mother had developed Alzheimer’s disease, so there was a chance that clues in her family history would help answer these questions.
Now Sager had a plan: he would study the children of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Sager was one of the first researchers in the world to study Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms or before a clinical diagnosis. Through clinical practice, professional education, outreach, and research, his commitment inspired fellow health care professionals and gave hope to patients and their families.
Established by Sager and his colleague Bruce Hermann, PhD, the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP), studies people 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.
WRAP is one of the hallmarks of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute (WAI), for which Sager served as founding director. Another hallmark of the WAI developed by Dr. Sager is the WAI-affiliated Dementia Diagnostic Clinic Network. This state-wide network provides 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, WAI developed the WAI Regional 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.