Friday Faculty Focus: Janelle Beadle


March 17th, 2017

Dr. Janelle Beadle poses for a photo. (Photo by Brandon McDermott)

On this week’s episode of Friday Faculty focus, KVNO’s student reporter Brandon McDermott speaks with Dr. Janelle Beadle. Beadle is an assistant professor in the Department of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She discusses healthy aging, what happens to the brain as we age and fallacies about Dementia.

Brandon: Dr. Janelle Beadle, thanks for coming on the show.

Dr. Beadle: Thanks for having me!

Brandon: I see you work in the Department of Gerontology here at UNO. I noticed a research interest of yours in is brain basis of empathy and social behavior. Can you kind of explain what Healthy Aging is?

Dr. Beadle: That’s a great question. Genes are thought to contribute at most about 25 percent to our life span so the other 75 percent can really be affected by our lifestyle and habits. There are certain behaviors that help to promote healthy aging. For example, some of these may include exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet – other behaviors that are important include cognitive engagement or challenging your brain by taking classes, solving word puzzles or learning a new language.

They’ve actually also found that social engagement or our ability to interact with others socially is important and has also been associated with better performance on memory measures. But all of these behaviors kind of work together to help reduce risk of disease and aging and help maintain healthy brain functioning as we get older.

Brandon: Can you talk about the how the brain changes as we age?

Dr. Beadle: As we get older there are some changes to our brain. These affect the cells of our brain and those are called neurons, but they also affect the connections between our neurons. Some of our neurons may die and the connections between them may lose some of their integrity. However, it’s thought that particular parts of the brain undergo change, whereas other regions remain relatively stable as we get older.

In particular, older adults have changes in two particular regions of the brain – the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe – this may affect older adult’s ability to manipulate information online or switch between tasks so they might have trouble getting a little distracted at times. There’s also some evidence that they may have a little more difficulty remembering extensive details about their personal experiences.

Brandon: Does this lead us to act socially different as we age – based on these changes?

Dr. Beadle: One of the interesting things about aging is that in general it’s been found that social and emotional aspects of life may improve with aging in comparison to younger adults. Older adults actually report higher levels of emotional well-being on average and more effective emotion regulation. In addition, there is evidence that older adults tend to remember positive information more easily than negative information and they will know their social networks down into a small group of people who are most meaningful to them.

Brandon: Moving on, can you talk about the upcoming Dementia Care Conference?

Dr. Beadle: As you mentioned, is going to be held Thursday April 6th at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Omaha. But it’s also going to be life streamed at the Younes Conference Center in Kearney. We’re actually going to have two keynote speakers this year – Dr. James A. Hendrix who’s the director of global science initiatives for the Alzheimer’s Association. He’s going to share information about efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association research round-table. Another speaker will be Jolene Brackey. She’s the author of “Creating Moments of Joy for the Person with Alzheimer’s,” she’ll help participants focus on creating moments of joy for a person living with Dementia.

UNO is actually going to have another related event on Friday, April 7th from 8-9 a.m. in the Community Engagement Center, this is actually going to bring Dr. James A. Hendrix to speak at our campus – breakfast will be served – he’ll be talking just about the state of research on Alzheimer’s disease. So that’s open to the community as well and is free.

Brandon: When it comes to Dementia, what are some of the biggest misconceptions about Dementia? For those who don’t understand the disease.

Dr. Beadle: People who are not familiar with Dementia may not realize that there are many different types of Dementia and that the disease process affects the brain in different ways. For example, to name just a few of the dementia’s – there are Alzheimer’s disease, Frontotemporal Dementia and Parkinson’s disease with Dementia. Early on in the disease, in Alzheimer’s disease memory symptoms may be most prominent, whereas if you look at Frontotemporal Dementia you may actually notice changes and personality or decision making.

For Parkinson’s disease the motor symptoms may be most prominent early on, such as the tremor or weakness affecting one side of the body. People may not realize that in addition to the motor symptoms there are actually some other symptoms that are involved. For example, there are some changes in mood and that can result in depression and anxiety there’s also cognitive changes and fatigue and sleep disorders might also be common.

Brandon: All right, Dr. Janelle Beadle, thanks for coming in.

Dr. Beadle: Thank you so much.

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