Skip to main content

Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Headshot of Mara Mather with name and title

Professor Mara Mather: Slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease

By Alzheimer's and Dementia, Lifespan Health, Podcast, Research

Mara Mather, Professor of Gerontology and Psychology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, is shedding light on how we learn, what we remember, and where we might find clues to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Quotes from this episode

“What is it that you remember? The things that you remember are typically the things that were really emotional in your life that mattered to you, that were surprising, that stood out. And we also can notice ourselves how much we tend to have gaps in some of these memories. And so scientists have been interested in this for a very long time.”

“We looked at a sample of several hundred adults and we found among the older adults that the integrity of the locus coeruleus or this brightness that it shows on our MRI images because of its magnetic properties – as that declines with age, it seems that the locus coeruleus is probably showing some neuronal loss. And we found that that signal was associated with how well people did on memory tests. So people who showed what looked like a more intact locus coeruleus were doing better on memory tests.”

“It turns out the locus coeruleus is a really fascinating area to look at in aging because it is the first place that Alzheimer’s pathology is seen. And what I mean there is when you hear about Alzheimer’s disease, you hear about plaques and tangles and the plaques are amyloid beta pathology and the tangles are related to tau pathology and tau pathology starts in the brain quite a bit earlier than the amyloid.”

“I think that Alzheimer’s is more like cardiovascular disease. It’s a spectrum and we’re all somewhere on this spectrum. We all have a little bit of the disease pathology the way that we probably all have some atherosclerosis lurking somewhere in our cardiovascular system. What this means is that, Alzheimer’s is this very slow-moving process and what we really want to be doing is slowing it down.”

“That high arousal state is helping you to learn new things and shape your brain and keep your brain plastic as you get older or throughout life. But those high energy, high metabolic brain plasticity processes are creating waste, they’re producing things like amyloid and tau. So you’ve got these positive aspects that leads to brain plasticity, but it also can lead to more pathology.”

“You need both the high arousal, sympathetic nervous system, properties that allow for brain plasticity. And you also need these relaxation, parasympathetic properties that allow for things to be repaired and for waste to be cleared out. And you need to go through both of those states every day pretty much to maintain a healthy balance of both really high performance and dealing with the consequences of having had all that brain activity.”

“And so my hope and my ambition is to try to figure out the balance where you can engage the brain in intense mental stimulation that leads to growth and neuroplasticity. And we can also figure out optimal ways to either restore deep sleep and enhance that or do these sort of meditative or heart rate variability, biofeedback sort of practices that can mimic some of the aspects of deep sleep and allow for the clearance of the waste products of that really high mental stimulation.”

“One study that looked at a large sample of people who have practiced meditation for many years versus people who have not practiced meditation found that when they just used a machine learning technique to guess at how old the brains were of each person. This algorithm guessed that on average, the meditators brains were 7.5 years younger than their actual age and compared to the control brains, which were non-meditators and didn’t show that effect. So it seems that meditation is associated with benefits for the actual brain health, which is really interesting, whether this might be because over years, they’ve had better clearance of these potentially pathological aspects that when they accumulate for many years eventually lead to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Learn more about Professor Mara Mather and her work at

Headshot of Christian Pike with name and title

Professor Christian Pike: Sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease

By Alzheimer's and Dementia, Lifespan Health, Podcast, Research

Christian Pike, Professor of Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, discusses his research on sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease and how they can help inform how we might one day prevent and treat it.

 Quotes from this episode

“… Maybe there are situations where the disease, although it’s the same disease, it works a little bit different in men than it does women. And maybe we should consider that in terms of the risk factors for developing it and even how we approach it therapeutically.”

“If you look at clinical trials of Alzheimer’s disease drugs, almost all of them are failed.”

“You can’t control your genetics. At least you can’t yet. But you can control your environment and your lifestyle what we call modifiable risk factors. And so what everybody can do is deal with those now. while we’re, while we’re waiting to get the treatments.”

“There are so many differences between men and women in Alzheimer’s disease. I mean, at the core of it, the disease is very much the same across all people. But then when you begin to break it down into the effects of different risk factors, you begin to see significant differences.”

“And in recent years there’s been a greater emphasis on sex differences in the more we look, the more differences between the male brain and the female brain that we find.”

Learn more about Professor Pike and his work at

Close Menu