Meet the Investigators – Sajatovic

Martha Sajatovic MD
Director of the OREC

Dr. Martha Sajatovic, MD

Professor of Psychiatry and of Neurology
University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Outreach, Recruitment, and Engagement Core (OREC)

Tell me about yourself and your role at the Cleveland Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (CADRC).

I’m a psychiatrist by training, and I do both neurology and neuropsychiatry research. I have been faculty here at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine for almost 30 years and one area that I have done research in for a long time is community outreach and engagement in traditionally hard to reach and hard to engage populations. So, I was absolutely thrilled to be involved in CADRC, and have the honor of being the lead of the Outreach, Recruitment, and Engagement Core (OREC). I am fortunate to work with a wonderful outreach team, and our job is several fold. We are interested in engaging, recruiting, and sustaining people, as well as educating our community about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as well as raising awareness about the center.

What do you see as your core’s main activities and goals?

Our main activity is to engage with and educate the community about Alzheimer’ disease/dementia and to raise awareness about our center in an effort to increase participation and involvement. An additional purpose of our core is integration with other cores in our center. We have a number of accomplished scientists and investigators involved who can contribute to the success of the center moving forward.

What is the focus of your research currently, and where do you see your work going in the next two-five years?

I engage in behavioral research, with a focus on neuropsychiatry, and people who are living with chronic diseases. As our society is generally an aging one, having multiple chronic health conditions, what is sometimes called “multi-morbidity” is more and more common.  I have funded research projects from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on the topics of brain health in aging and neuropsychiatric and psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.  I have a newly funded NIH project that is intended to test a new approach to reduce stroke risk factors in African American men who’ve had a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). In the context of the CADRC, an area that I am particularly interested in is stigma related to dementia. Stigma is an important, strong, and negative force in our society. It can impact one’s ability to receive the support and the help that they need. It can also impede the ability of families to get the help they need, thus affecting the quality for those with cognitive decline and dementia. My team and I are interested in researching stigma, and determining what approaches we can use to inform and educate communities about Alzheimer’s and dementia. We hope to develop successful approaches to combat dementia-related stigma as it really is a corrosive force in many communities and families.  

How do you see research in brain health/Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia evolving in the next 2-5 years?

It’s very promising, in my opinion. What is particularly encouraging is that we have seen increases in funding – and financial support of scientists more broadly— in the US around the area of Alzheimer’s and dementia. I am optimistic that we will be able to tackle some of the specific problems, both from a biological and clinical perspective, thus helping to reduce risk, and to potentially change the trajectory of the disease course. I think that the research that is happening on multiple fronts is important, including the biological, translational, and public health components. A good example is a condition like stroke where it was, and remains, a cause of extensive burden. But, if we look at stroke rates, they have actually declined over the last couple of decades as we have gained an appreciation for engaging in various preventative measures, such as optimizing blood pressure control in those who have hypertension. So, I think we can expect to see continued evolution of prevention and risk management for those at risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Do you have any suggestion or recommendations for students or young researchers who wish to get more involved in brain health research?

We are very fortunate to have this center in Cleveland, and in Northeast Ohio. If you are interested, reach out to people in our center. We love working with students, trainees, and there are plenty of opportunities for engagement, whether it’s assisting us in a project or just talking to us to learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia, or brain health research, in general. We often hold community events, which is a good way to stay informed, and to get to know some of the investigators. Our website is regularly updated so that members of our community (including those who might be interested in a research career!) can learn about events occurring locally.  All are welcome!