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Home > ARRA Stories > Dr. Denise Park: Identifying Strategies for Healthy Senior Years
Dr. Denise Park: Identifying Strategies for Healthy Senior Years

Denise Cortis Park, Ph.D., Professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, The University of Texas at Dallas

With its rapidly aging society, the United States faces an increasingly urgent issue: how can Americans maintain the health of the mind as they age? Can we stave off memory lapses and the loss of mental agility associated with normal aging, and can we slow or even prevent altogether the progression of Alzheimer's disease? Dr. Denise Park, Director of the Center for Vital Longevity at The University of Texas at Dallas, employs innovative tools to understand how our brain changes as we age. Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has allowed her to investigate how a protein that deposits on the brain (amyloid) affects the mind and whether it predicts the onset of Alzheimer's disease many years before symptoms develop. Her findings may help develop diagnostic tests for detecting Alzheimer's disease as well as strategies for staying mentally sharp at every stage of life.

Dr. Denise Park directs the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas. As a result of ARRA, Dr. Park's laboratory was awarded funding to support the Synapse Project—an initiative that examines how participating in mentally stimulating activities and engaging in exercise sustain and improve cognitive health. This funding has had a significant impact not only on the laboratory but also on the university as a whole, as well as on local businesses and medical facilities that support the researchers' work.

Whitley Aamodt is a research assistant in Dr. Park's laboratory. A native of the Dallas area, Whitley graduated from college in 2009 and found temporary employment at the Center for Vital Longevity. She helps enroll volunteers in the Synapse Project and prepares them for brain scans that allow researchers to detect the presence of amyloid deposits and other changes in brain tissue. She would have lost her job without the ARRA funding.

Janice Gebhard is also a research assistant at the Center for Vital Longevity. The funds to support her position were made available through ARRA. Janice has lived in Dallas for more than 45 years. She was a substitute teacher when she was offered the opportunity to have a full-time position working with participants on the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, many of whom joined the study because a family member or other loved one had Alzheimer's disease.

Video courtesy of Darrell Chambers and Blair Flicker, The University of Texas at Dallas.

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