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Research News at Vanderbilt

VUSN Alzheimer’s study to explore perception of pain

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Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) has been awarded a four-year $660,633 grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Aging to study how psychophysical responses to acute experimental thermal pain differ between older adults with and without Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

Todd Monroe, Ph.D., R.N.

Todd Monroe, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor of Nursing and the study’s principal investigator, is exploring if older adults with AD have altered responses in sensory pain and affective pain systems that may place them at risk for poor pain management and unnecessary suffering.

Monroe and his team will examine the psychophysical and neurophysiological response to experimental thermal stimuli in healthy older adults (age 65 and older) and similar aged adults with AD. This will provide a foundation for understanding factors that may contribute to untreated pain risk, as well as for developing novel assessment, prevention and treatment strategies in this patient population.

Since coming to VUSN in 2010, Monroe completed a three-year post-doctoral fellowship with VUSN and Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science. He also began building a research program in pain, aging and Alzheimer’s Disease and led two pilot studies using psychophysical and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods to examine pain responses in adults with and without Alzheimer’s Disease.

Preliminary findings suggest that when compared to healthy older adults, people with AD may have decreased pain sensitivity placing them at risk of late or failed detection of reporting pain. Further analysis revealed an extensive pattern of deactivation in several brain regions.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 5.1 million older adults with Alzheimer’s Disease in the United States. By 2025, the group estimates 7.1 million older adults will have Alzheimer’s Disease, a 40 percent increase.

“As a society, as scientists and as clinicians, we need to have a much deeper understanding of the connection between pain and Alzheimer’s Disease. Todd is an innovative researcher who is determined to find answers that may result in a higher quality of life for individuals with this disease,” said Linda Norman, DSN, R.N., Valere Potter Menfee Professor of Nursing and dean of VUSN.

Monroe said the support provided by Gordon Bernard, M.D., and Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D., through the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Coordinating Center, were instrumental in providing him the necessary tools to compete for this external award.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to work for an institution that provides such extraordinary support for early stage investigators. Dr. Hartmann and the entire CTSA career development program staff are outstanding,” Monroe said.

Media Inquiries:
Kathy Rivers, (615) 322-3894
kathy.rivers@vanderbilt.edu