Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common type of dementia. Over time, people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias lose their memory and their ability to think, to speak, to walk, and to carry out basic bodily functions such as swallowing. Alzheimer’s is the fasting growing disease in the United States. It is 100 percent fatal, and there is no way to stop or prevent it—YET.

Our research is funded through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as state and private funding, and includes some of the most comprehensive long-term studies in the world on brain aging. The innovative research we are doing is helping to attract research talent to our state, which is good for medicine and good for Mississippi.

The MIND (Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia) Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center is a national leader in Alzheimer’s research and clinical care, backed by the state’s only academic medical center. The center was founded in 2010 by Dr. Tom Mosley, who serves as the Dudley and Robbie Hughes Distinguished MIND Center Chair and Director of The MIND Center. He is a professor in the Department of Medicine: Division of Geriatrics and Department of Neurology. “Our research is funded through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as state and private funding, and includes some of the most comprehensive long-term studies in the world on brain aging,” says Mosley. “The innovative research we are doing is helping to attract research talent to our state, which is good for medicine and good for Mississippi.”

Mosley was successful in securing strong community support, including Ambassador John N. Palmer, along with a $29 million multi-site grant from the NIH that helped launch the center. The MIND Center recently moved into a new, state-of-the-art Translational Research Center (TRC) on the UMMC campus. “I wanted to centralize our research efforts under one umbrella to promote collaboration and synergy between our scientists who come from diverse disciplines.” Thanks to a generous donation by the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, the Gertrude C. Ford MIND Research Center was established in 2016 and now encompasses the entire first floor of the TRC. “This new space marks an important milestone in our mission to accelerate the pace of discovery in our work on Alzheimer’s and related diseases,” said Mosley.

We have been very interested in how and when Alzheimer’s develops. Alzheimer’s pathology doesn’t start when symptoms start, but in fact precedes symptoms by as much as two decades.

From a research perspective, Mosley says The MIND Center is conducting some of the largest studies in the world on risk factors for Alzheimer’s and dementia. “We have been very interested in how and when Alzheimer’s develops. Alzheimer’s pathology doesn’t start when symptoms start, but in fact precedes symptoms by as much as two decades. Our work has shown links between risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes in mid-life, when people are in their 40s and 50s, and late life memory loss and dementia. The importance of this work is that it suggests venues for possibly preventing dementia, which is our ultimate goal.”

Mosley says The MIND Center is working in conjunction with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to put together a new population or “cohort” of participants for a research study called The MIND Center – Mayo Clinic Study of Aging that will include people of different races and socio-economic backgrounds. “This study of aging is the culmination of years of collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and will provide a wealth of information we will use toward our end goal of prevention.” The new study will focus on participants 55 and older to determine best practices for healthy aging.

This study of aging is the culmination of years of collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and will provide a wealth of information we will use toward our end goal of prevention.

Denise Lafferty, Chief of Operations for The MIND Center, says that the clinical component of The MIND Center started in late 2013 and has grown exponentially since that time. “We have three ambulatory clinics where we see patients in the Jackson area: the University Physicians Pavilion, Flowood Family Medicine Center and University Physicians Grants Ferry. Our clinics are staffed by a multi-disciplinary team of internal and family medicine physicians, geriatric specialists, neurologists, a social worker, a nurse practitioner, and RN care coordinators. The MIND Center clinical staff specialize in caring for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia with a focus on promoting early diagnosis and treatment.” Lafferty says that some of the causes of memory loss are treatable and potentially reversible. “The providers focus on finding out what is causing the memory loss and treat the underlying causes. Our doctors utilize the available medications that help to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s or dementia in some patients and may improve symptoms, but there’s no treatment yet to halt the progression.”

In addition to the three Jackson-area clinics, The MIND Center has partnered with the UMMC Center for Telehealth to set up satellite locations in Grenada, Lexington and Greenwood for patients to be evaluated by MIND Center providers via live audiovisual technology similar to skyping. “The TeleMIND program is a way for us to provide the same services we provide locally to those who are unable to travel to Jackson,” says Lafferty. “We are currently working to expand the program to other sites across Mississippi to create a statewide footprint of memory-care services.”

The support of family and friends is critical to the well-being of a patient with dementia, and The MIND Center recognizes that caregivers also need significant support as the disease progresses. “A social worker or RN care coordinator is typically present on the initial visit so that they can get to know the patient and their caregivers,” says Lafferty. “Our care coordination staff can always be reached by phone and are available to help with legal and financial issues or assist the family when it comes to finding a service or facility to provide a higher level of care.”

The support groups are open to anyone in the community who is a caregiver for someone with dementia. We also offer individual and family counseling to help families handle the stress and emotions that are commonly part of caring for a loved one with dementia.

Two caregiver support groups provide support, education and camaraderie through monthly meetings. “We hold one at the Pavilion at UMMC lead by our social worker and the other at the Grants Ferry clinic led by one of our RN care coordinators,” Lafferty says. “The support groups are open to anyone in the community who is a caregiver for someone with dementia. We also offer individual and family counseling to help families handle the stress and emotions that are commonly part of caring for a loved one with dementia.”

In 2016, The MIND Center was designated by UMMC as a comprehensive center meaning it shares the tri-fold mission of the Medical Center: healthcare, research and education. “We are currently expanding the educational programs we provide to caregivers, healthcare providers and the community at large,” says Lafferty. “We have hired a new director of education and outreach, Kathy Van Cleave, who is a Masters-prepared social worker with a strong background in delivering education and services to individuals and families battling Alzheimer’s and dementia in our state.”

Education has been an ongoing priority with The MIND Center. In 2014, Mind Matters was launched, offering free informational programs to the public every other month. Meetings are free of charge and held in the student union building at UMMC with speakers who share information that is helpful for both seniors and caregivers. “We have a good following with many people who come each time,” says Lafferty. “We’ve had great programs on legal and financial considerations, hearing loss and its relationship to cognitive decline, music and memory, the correlation between sleep apnea and cognitive decline and more.”

This year The MIND Center is presenting the 19th Annual Conference on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias August 21-24 at the BancorpSouth Arena and Conference Center in Tupelo. The theme of this year’s conference is “If I Could Turn Back Time: Strategies to Improve Brain Health.” The conference will center on strategies to improve brain health and promote successful aging. “We will have nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, social workers, physical, occupational and speech therapists, nursing home administrators, family caregivers, seniors and mental health providers at the conference,” Lafferty states.  Mosley will give the keynote address, and Kim Campbell, wife of legendary singer Glen Campbell, will serve as the motivational and closing speaker.

Firefighter Quinton Robertson knows what being a caregiver is all about. For 16 months he cared for his father every day during his struggle with Alzheimer’s. “My mom and I were his caregivers. I gave up my life in St. Augustine, Florida to come help my mom, and I don’t regret it at all. We lost my dad due to complications of Alzheimer’s on April 19, 2014.” After his father’s death, Robertson wanted to do something to help fight Alzheimer’s but wasn’t sure what to do. “I purchased a new vehicle, and in the past I usually had some sort of specialty car tag, like Ducks Unlimited or something. I asked the lady at the tag office if they had an Alzheimer’s tag, and she was surprised to learn they didn’t. I told her I’d have to do something about that. She said if I did, she’d be the first to buy one because her sister has Alzheimer’s.”

Getting a specialty tag is easier said than done. Robertson did a lot of research and made phone calls to a lot of people before he was put in touch with Representative Tom Weathersby, who ultimately introduced a bill to the House and Senate which passed. “To have a specialty car tag, you must have a beneficiary,” Robertson explained. “We made The MIND Center the beneficiary.” The MIND Center is still working to pre-sell 300 tags to have the tags go into permanent production. You can support The MIND Center by purchasing a tag for $36 at umc.edu/mindcartag.

Robertson went on to coordinate a 5K race to benefit The MIND Center with the backing of his firefighter brothers. Called Brawn and Bubbles 5K Run for the Brain, the race is put on by The MIND Center and the Reservoir Fire Department of Rankin County. The sunset run along the shoreline of the Reservoir is followed by a champagne reception. “It turns out that a little champagne in moderation is good for brain health,” says Melissa Robinson, Major Gifts Officer for The MIND Center. “The run has been super successful,” says Robertson. “We’ve had three events so far, and each one continues to grow. The last race we had fifty folks do walk-up registrations on the day of the race, and we doubled our attendance from the prior year. We had no idea that many people would come. I’m thrilled that we are doing this because I want to help everyone in the state who is living and dealing with this disease.”

The MIND Center is shining a spotlight on Alzheimer’s and dementia in our state and is making great strides in its mission to slow, stop and ultimately prevent these devastating diseases. For more information on The MIND Center, go to www.umc.edu/mindcenter.