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Dementia's varying impacts on memory

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R. Ronald Finley, BS Pharm, RPh

Clinical Pharmacist

Ron Finley received his bachelor of science degree in pharmacy at St. Louis College of Pharmacy and is a registered pharmacist.

For the past fourteen years, he has served as a clinical pharmacist with the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, formerly named the UCSF Alzheimer’s Center. Mr. Finley collaborates with the medical members of the team to evaluate and consult on drug therapy, frequently conducts medication history interviews with patients and/or caregivers, and meets with patients to discuss and answer questions regarding traditional and nontraditional medications.

Mr. Finley is a Consultant Pharmacist at the Institute on Aging’s On Lok-Senior Health program and the Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s Day Care Program. He is Co-Chair of Pharmacy Practice at the California Geriatric Education Center. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at UCSF.

Mr. Finley has a strong interest in geriatric drug therapy, medications for dementia and psychiatric conditions associated with dementia.

Andrea Zanko, MS

Genetic Counselor

Ms. Zanko received her master's degree in genetic counseling from the University of California, Berkeley. She has a bachelor's degree from Boston University in Education and Social Sciences, and she majored in cell and molecular biology at San Francisco State University.

Andrea Zanko has been a genetic counselor at UCSF in the pediatric and adult genetics clinic for over 20 years, working with families suspected or known to be affected by or at risk for genetic disorders. She created the UCSF Huntington’s Disease Counseling & Testing Clinic in 1990 and continues to counsel individuals and families regarding Huntington Disease (HD) and the complexities of predictive DNA analysis.

Ms. Zanko coordinates the HD clinic in association with the multidisciplinary team at the USCF Memory and Aging Center. She facilitates a monthly HD support group and participates in HD clinical research designed to ascertain and interpret the myriad expressions of Huntington Disease.

Jenny Ogar, MS

Speech Pathologist

Jennifer Ogar received her masters of science degree in communicative disorders from San Francisco State University in 2000.

She has been consulting with the MAC clinic since 2001, evaluating patients with progressive speech and language impairments. Ms. Ogar also participates in ongoing research in the area of aphasia and related disorders. Ms. Ogar is the Acting Chief of the Speech Pathology Service at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Martinez, California, where she sees patients with a range of speech, language and swallowing disorders.

Jennifer Merrilees, PhD, RN

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Jennifer Merrilees received her doctorate degree in nursing from the University of California, San Francisco. She is a Clinical Nurse Specialist at the Memory and Aging Center and Associate Clinical Professor (volunteer series) for the UCSF School of Nursing. Jennifer is part of a multidisciplinary team focused on the evaluation and management of people with cognitive and behavioral symptoms. She is the nurse coordinator of our clinical services, responsible for reviewing all new patient referrals, patient triage, and dealing with patient care issues. She is also one of the primary nurses for the NIH-funded program project grant entitled Frontotemporal Dementia: Genes, Imaging and Emotions where she conducts family interviews and collects data that focus on functional aspects and dementia severity. Her work at the Memory and Aging Center includes the nurse-run Behavior Management Clinic in which we assess and manage patients with problematic behavioral symptoms. She directs a research project exploring the dementia caregiver experience and provides support and education for family caregivers.

Mary Koestler, PhD, RN, CCRC

Project Administrator and Trials Nurse

Mary Koestler joined the Memory and Aging Center’s clinical trials unit as project administrator and trials nurse in July 2007. Dr. Koestler completed a master’s degree in nursing with an emphasis in clinical research management at UCSF followed by a PhD degree. She currently manages industry-sponsored FDA Phase I-III Alzheimer’s disease trials. Dr. Koestler is credentialed by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP).

Robin Ketelle, MS, RN

Nurse

Robin Ketelle received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from UCLA and a master’s degree in gerontological nursing from UCSF.

Robin’s career has involved work in medical surgical nursing, psychiatric nursing and geriatric nursing. She has held research positions at both the UC Davis and UCSF state funded California Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers (CADC). Her work at the CADCs included expert clinical care as a clinical nurse specialist and as a clinical trials coordinator for patients and families participating in dementia research. Most recently, Robin worked in a quality assurance program at Northern California Kaiser Permanente managing data and tracking patients with breast cancer.

Robin returned to the Memory and Aging Center in May 2006 and since that time has been the primary nurse for the NIH funded Alzheimer Disease Research Center (ADRC) program, interviewing caregivers and study partners about participants’ everyday functioning, mood and behavior. She also manages the NIH-funded program project grant entitled Frontotemporal Dementia: Genes, Imaging and Emotions and interviews caregivers participating in that study as well. Additionally, Robin facilitates the caregiver support group for families and friends of patients with frontotemporal dementia. Robin is interested in helping patients with neurodegenerative disease and their caregivers to learn coping mechanisms that will improve their overall well being. She is also interested in the impact of specific symptoms of dementia, such as apathy, on function and overall health.

Natasha Boissier, LCSW

Social Worker

Natasha received her masters degree in social work from San Francisco State University in 1996 and became licensed as a Clinical Social Worker in 2003. Natasha has worked extensively in community agencies addressing the needs of the elderly. Prior to joining the MAC team, she was a family consultant and clinical supervisor at Family Caregiver Alliance, a center dedicated to providing information and support to family members caring for someone with a dementia related disease. Natasha joined the Memory and Aging Center in 2007 as a part-time social worker.

Natasha primarily works with families of patients to assist them in identifying comprehensive care plans, which include connecting family caregivers with resources in their communities, providing information on how best to manage challenging behavioral symptoms, as well as providing support and education on how to maintain one's health and well-being while providing care to their loved ones.

Cindy Barton, RN, MSN, GNP

Nurse Practitioner

Cynthia Barton received her basic nursing education at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire. She then went on to get her bachelor of science degree in nursing at UCSF and her master of science degree in nursing from Duke University. She is certified as a Gerontological Nurse Practitioner by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Ms. Barton is employed as a Nurse Practitioner at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center and holds an Associate Clinical Professor position in the UCSF School of Nursing. She is involved in evaluating patients at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center's Memory Disorders Clinic and the UCSF Memory and Aging Center Clinic. She co-founded a nurse run clinic to assess and manage behavioral symptoms associated with dementia, funded by a grant from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. She recently completed a project with colleagues to improve the care of hospitalized patients with dementia funded by the Picker Foundation and the UCSF Medical Center. She currently serves on the Medical Resources Workgroup for the SF City and County Task for Excellence in Dementia Care and co-authored the Geriatric Review Syllabus chapter on dementia. She speaks in the community on the topics of cognition in the elderly, cognitive assessment and non-pharmacological management of behavior problems in dementia.

Indre Viskontas, MM, PhD

Cognitive Neuroscience Affiliate

An experienced observer of human behavior, Dr. Indre Viskontas has published ground-breaking work on the neural basis of memory and creativity and has won numerous research and teaching awards. Holding a PhD from UCLA in cognitive neuroscience, Dr. Viskontas studies how memories, creativity and other cognitive processes are supported by neural networks, using the latest techniques, including direct recordings from neurons in the human brain, high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging and voxel-based morphometry.

Dr. Viskontas’s work is characterized by innovation and a focus on the "big" questions in neuroscience: how do brain cells code memory? What memory processes enable creative thinking? How can the paradoxical facilitation of creativity emerge from a degenerating brain?

Since completing her PhD in 2006, she has published more than 30 articles and chapters, including several seminal articles in top scientific journals such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Neuroscience, Current Opinion in Neurology and Nature: Clinical Practice. Her dissertation was recognized as the best of her class, and she was a finalist for the New York Academy of Sciences dissertation prize.

Dr. Viskontas has also been the recipient of numerous fellowships, including a 4-year Julie-Payette Research Fellowship awarded to the top 10 Canadian graduate students in the Life Sciences, the Ursula Mandel Fellowship, a UCLA dissertation fellowship, a McBean Family Foundation fellowship, the Charles and Sue Young award for the top five graduate students at UCLA, and the prestigious Larry Cermak award at the Memory Disorders Meeting.

She is currently affiliated with the Memory and Aging Center at UCSF, under the direction of Dr. Bruce Miller. Her ongoing collaborations include projects with internationally-acclaimed artist Deborah Aschheim, with whom she is creating art pieces and scientific research investigating the interplay between memory, creativity and the brain, as well as several studies of creativity in patients with degenerative dementias. She has been invited to speak at scientific conferences around the world, and is the Associate Editor of the journal Neurocase. She is also hosted a television series called Miracle Detectives which aired in 2011 on the Oprah Winfrey network.

Dr. Viskontas is also a classically-trained soprano with a masters of music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and performs with regional opera companies and chamber music groups in the Bay Area.

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