Aging and Healthy Brains: Monroeville Church Presents Educational Program

Area residents learned about aging and brain health Sept. 12 at Monroeville United Methodist Church.

The free educational program was planned by the church’s adult ministries committee and health and wellness committee. The event focused on the healthy aging process of the brain and the mental health challenges that come with aging.

Keynote speakers were Dr. Howard J. Aizenstein, geriatric psychiatrist and director of the Neuroimaging Program in Geriatric Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Akiko Mizuno, Psychiatry Research Fellow, also with the GPN Lab. They were accompanied by Brianna Raskin, a neuroscience student at the university.

Jeanette Matthews, chair of the adult ministries committee, was able to connect with the doctors through Edythe Eddy, senior director of research at Pitt’s GPN Lab. Joshua Hughes, who chairs the health and wellness committee, also worked with Matthews to make this event possible.

“I was involved in a research study for a number of years through the University of Pittsburgh,” Matthews said. “The research focuses on the aging of the brain. When I became president of the adult ministries program, I thought it might be good to have a guest speaker come and talk about things that affect a person’s brain as they age and some of the research on this.

Discussion topics included methods of treating and preventing dementia, depression and other brain diseases. Resources have been provided for people seeking help with these challenges.

Much has been said about Alzheimer’s disease and the work of the GPN Lab to learn more about its origins. The GPN Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh is one of 33 Alzheimer’s disease research centers in the United States.

Alzheimer’s disease has many theories regarding its causation, including genetics, lifestyle, and age-related brain changes. It is often late onset and researchers have found little relationship to genetics.

Aizenstein explained how the brain ages differently from the body, for a multitude of reasons. Studies have shown that chronic stress or its symptoms and emotional and physical trauma can accelerate brain aging. To combat this, he recommended maintaining a balanced diet and balanced sleep schedule, and maintaining social connections.

“Do things that are rewarding and that you enjoy,” he said.

He also talked about the importance of exercise, which has been shown to grow the hippocampus, a brain structure that plays a major role in learning and memory.

“I think people will benefit greatly from the presentation because, number one, a number of us are older, so it will affect us,” Matthews said. “A number of us will be seniors one day, so it will be good for them to be aware of that at a younger age. There are also a number of people who have someone in their family or friends who are older and can better understand what that person is going through.

The presenters delved a little deeper into magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography to take the intimidation out of treatment options. MRIs and PET scans have been used in studies of different cognitive conditions. Each played a vital role in learning effective treatment methods.

The amount of amyloid protein in the brain was previously undetectable until a person died. With the advancement of research, protein level can be detected using PET scans. Researchers know that a buildup of amyloid in the brain is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, but still aren’t sure of the exact correlation.

“I think it will be very beneficial for all ages,” Matthews said.

The event was open to guests of all ages. Attendees were those seeking healthy aging brains and those supporting others on their journey. There was a part of the event where members of the public were free to ask questions and clarify their understanding of brain aging.

Undergraduate students in the GPN program host Intergenerational Conversations twice a week. They organize these meetings to increase social interactions and shared ideas between generations. Visit virtualsenioracademy.org for details.

For more information about the GPN Lab and its work, visit gpn.pitt.edu.

Hayley Daugherty is a contributing writer.

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