Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Interpreting Alzheimer’s Disease through both a personal and educational lens

Written by Aja Jones, B.A. candidate in Psychological & Brain Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis & participant in the 2020 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

In an online seminar for the summer program’s Aging and Neurological Diseases Track with Matthew Wynn, a graduate student focusing on Geropsychology, I was able to apply what I already know about Alzheimer’s disease to new information. The seminar challenged my stereotypical beliefs that Alzheimer’s occurred fairly early, such as when people are in their 60s. In reality, it mostly affects older individuals around the ages of 70-80 years old. That was just one small detail that I really took away from the seminar.

I also learned that Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with this because my Grandfather just recently passed away after battling Alzheimer’s disease for many years. I have seen firsthand the deterioration that Alzheimer’s disease can cause, both to the patient, but also to their family and friends. I appreciated that in Wynn’s seminar, he acknowledged caretakers and family members as essential aids in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease and that he did not downplay their contributions.

I was only around fourteen years old when my Grandfather was initially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease but I remember being confused when people would use the term Alzheimer’s disease and dementia interchangeably. This confusion has carried on for many years, up until this seminar. Wynn discussed how Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are similar to a specific disease compared to the symptoms. Dementia is an umbrella term for a variety of symptoms that someone with Alzheimer’s disease may experience; it is a range of symptoms that are associated with cognitive impairment. This breakdown of these terms, in terminology that I understood, made Wynn’s seminar both informative and crucial for bettering my understanding of Alzheimer’s disease.

Matthew Wynn’s seminar, as well as the many others I have been privileged enough to attend due to this summer program, was interesting and thought-provoking. Although this is not how I anticipated participating in this program, I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to do so. This seminar allowed me to dive deeper into my interest regarding Alzheimer’s disease and it gave me a space to ask someone in the field more about the ins-and-outs of studying Geropsychology!