How do risk factors for dementia affect the brain?

Raised of $2,875 Goal
Ended on 12/29/16
Campaign Ended
  • $974
  • 34%
  • Finished
    on 12/29/16

About This Project

Alzheimer's disease and related dementias are currently the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., but we do not have a cure. While science has discovered that several risk factors like low education and genetics can increase risk for the disease, science does not know how these risk factors affect the brain. This study will reveal how risk factors affect the brain and offer solutions for brain-training interventions.

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What is the context of this research?

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is steadily increasing and will double within 30 years. In addition, the healthcare cost for someone with AD is already more than 80% higher than the cost for cancer or heart disease ( The impact on the healthcare resources and personal income will continue to be an enormous burden on society (an estimated $214 billion). Even if treatments become available, they will require a substantial amount of healthcare and financial resources to treat the disease. However, if we could better identify people in the earliest stage of the disease, then lifestyle factors or treatments could be altered decades before the onset of symptoms to delay or prevent the onset of AD. The key is prevention and early detection.

What is the significance of this project?

There are many known risk factors for AD including low education, having the genetic predisposition, having minority status, family history of AD, subjective memory complaints, hypertension, among others. Despite this knowledge, we do not know how these risk factors affect the brain. Knowing how risk factors affect the brain is important because it can help us identify brain regions that become vulnerable to the build up of toxic proteins that eventually lead to the disease. By identifying target brain regions for brain-training interventions or brain-stimulation interventions, we can make the brain more resilient and delay or even prevent the onset of AD, which would reduce proportion of AD diagnoses by at least half.

What are the goals of the project?

The current project has two primary questions: 1) How do Alzheimer risk factors affect brain structure? and 2) How do Alzheimer risk factors affect brain function? To answer these questions, we will recruit participants between 50 and 70 years old that have at least a couple risk factors for the disease. We will then assess cognitive function including attention and memory. Lastly, we will gather brain structure and brain activity data through an MRI session. Then, we will be able to determine if certain risk factors lead to declines in brain structure and reduced brain activity in some brain regions more than others. We will also test for compound effects of multiple risk factors on the brain. We plan to start in January 2017.


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Conducting this research on the brain requires hiring a technician to control the MRI machine (MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging and is how we measure brain structure and brain activity). Also of critical importance is to adequately compensate participants that are at-risk for developing dementia for their generous time in the study. Each MRI scan takes about two hours including prepping them and putting them inside the MRI scanner. Participants will be paid $75 for their travel and time spent in this study. We are requesting funds to recruit 25 participants and 25 hours of MRI technician time.

Endorsed by

This is a well designed study by a research team that is well suited to investigate the cognitive risk factors for dementia. It would represent a major step forward to find the signs in middle adulthood that predict later severe memory problems. It could ultimately lead to preventative measures that middle aged adults could undertake to slow down or prevent severe memory loss in later life. We should all be interested in this for ourselves and our older relatives. Dr. McDonough is a very well trained and respected aging and memory researcher.

Meet the Team

Ian Marshall McDonough
Ian Marshall McDonough
Assistant Professor


The University of Alabama, Department of Psychology, Associate of the Alabama Research Institute on Aging
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Team Bio

Dr. Rebecca Allen, PhD, ABPP is a Professor and Board Certified Geropsychologist in Clinical Psychology at The University of Alabama. Her research focuses on interventions in older adults and cultural dynamics of healthcare decision making.

Dr. Deborah Eakin, PhD is an Associate Professor in Cognitive Science at Mississippi State University. Her research focuses on the theoretical bases of subjective memory and forgetting in memory.

Ian Marshall McDonough

Dr. Ian McDonough is currently an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama and is an Associate of the Alabama Research Institute on Aging. Dr. McDonough received his B.S. in Cognitive Science from UCLA in 2006, his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Chicago in 2011, and did his postdoc at the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas until 2015. He recently received the Matilda White Riley Early Stage Investigator Honors from the National Institute of Health and was accepted into the highly competitive Butler-Williams Scholars Program at the National Institute on Aging. Dr. McDonough’s current research focuses on the neural correlates of memory retrieval and how they differ with old age. More recently, he has also begun to investigate how the neural correlates differ in middle-aged and older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, with a particular focus on racial/ethnic health disparities.

To see what Dr. McDonough has been publishing lately, check out his Google Scholar profile.

Project Backers

  • 13Backers
  • 34%Funded
  • $974Total Donations
  • $74.92Average Donation
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