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September 16, 2014

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SIX QUESTIONS::

Aiming to revolutionize dementia research

An interview with the president of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute

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Steve Marcus

Dr. Zaven Khachaturian, who heads the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute, says dementia needs to be addressed with Baby Boomers who are healthy but at risk.

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Dr. Zaven Khachaturian compares the mission of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute to President John F. Kennedy’s vision of putting a man on the moon.

Khachaturian, former director of the office of Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health, is the Brain Institute’s president and chief executive.

The institute was founded by Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada and a well-known Las Vegas philanthropist. His father suffered from Alzheimer’s and struggled to find quality care in Las Vegas.

What is the institute’s goal?

Two of our primary goals are to bring the best care to people who have dementia or problems with memory, movement and moods, and to create a research presence in Las Vegas.

How will you improve care?

By training students and creating a network of community physicians to work with us, while providing the technical assistance to evaluate patients.

What’s the big picture?

We need to look beyond the people who have the disease and consider the large numbers of Baby Boomers who are clinically healthy but may be at risk for one or more of these problems because of their family or medical history.

How will you advance dementia prevention efforts?

By establishing a registry of Baby Boomers who are at risk, evaluating them in the clinic every year and giving them information on the latest advances in prevention and lifestyle changes, so they can delay the onset of the disease. This would be the first registry organized this way, a possible prototype for a national program to study early signs of memory disorders.

What’s the importance of having headquarters that are a visual icon designed by architect Frank Gehry?

With the building, Larry Ruvo is making a bold statement about the importance of revolutionizing dementia research, the same way Kennedy made a bold statement when he said, “We’re going to put men on the moon in this decade.” At the time we did not have rockets that could get off the ground. But identifying that goal and that vision put everyone behind it.

How can Alzheimer’s and dementia be delayed?

Keep the mind active, with mental exercises like crossword puzzles or learning languages. We’ve known that people with higher education and challenging occupations seem to get the disease later in life.

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