Led by Dr. Claudia Kawas, the UCI ADRC Clinical Component helps hundreds of families affected by Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), Alzheimer’s disease, or another dementia annually while gathering invaluable data about the clinical presentation and progression of these cognitive disorders for use by researchers. Within each ADRC, the Clinical Component’s primary responsibility is to evaluate both cognitively impaired and intact individuals and follow them annually until death in order to document the normal and pathological changes that can occur with aging.
Our ADRC includes a Memory Assessment and Research Center, where individuals with memory or thinking difficulties can access a comprehensive evaluation that includes a neurological/physical examination, neuropsychological assessment, brain imaging, blood work and other diagnostic tests, as needed, and clinical interviews of the cognitively impaired person and a close family member or friend. Patients who are interested and eligible may enroll for longitudinal follow-up through the ADRC. Additionally, cognitively normal older adults who are interested in monitoring their own cognitive health may volunteer for participation in the Successful Aging Program of the ADRC. Whether memory-impaired or cognitively normal, all ADRC participants agree to return annually for repeat assessments, conducted at no cost; contribute any information collected to a national database (i.e., the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center), accessible to researchers worldwide, and, unless cultural or religious beliefs prohibit, brain donation upon death.
As a unique part of our Clinical Component, we are tracking the occurrence of dementia within two specialty groups, the oldest old (i.e., 90+) and persons with Down syndrome, under the leadership of Dr. Claudia Kawas and Dr. Ira Lott, respectively. Investigating the biological mechanisms and other factors (e.g., lifestyle, genetics) involved in the development and progression of dementia among individuals who survive beyond today’s average life expectancy of 78 (i.e., the 90+) and those with a genetic predisposition (i.e., persons Down syndrome) to Alzheimer’s disease offers a means of identifying targets for new therapeutic interventions that could benefit everyone at risk for or with Alzheimer’s disease.
“The Clinical Component is truly the heart of the ADRC,” notes Dr. Aimee Pierce, Medical Director of the Memory Assessment and Research Center. All of our efforts, here at UCI and other ADRCs nationwide, are ultimately aimed at preserving memories and curing Alzheimer’s disease. None of this could be done without a very well-characterized, reliable, and motivated group of research participants, which we have at UCI. It is always humbling to meet participants and realize some have been coming for more than 10 years! And it’s just as inspiring to see participants who are coming in for the first time and excited to be research volunteers.”
Through their participation, research volunteers may reap a variety of benefits, including access to expert clinicians, medical and psychosocial treatment recommendations, a family conference in which findings of the evaluation are reviewed in detail by a neurologist and neuropsychologist, written feedback, and access to clinical trials and other studies.