Paying It Forward for Alzheimer’s Research
by Guest Author
BY NANCY SOKOLER STEINER / PHOTOGRAPHED BY PHILLIP GRAYBILL
Thankful for medical research that has benefited them, the McLoughlin family donates to help others.
Barbara and John McLoughlin have turned to Providence Saint John’s Health Center for their medical needs for close to six decades. A year after the couple moved to Santa Monica from the East Coast in 1962, Barbara delivered daughter Linda at Saint John’s. Siblings Patty, Cathy and Mike followed—all making their debut at the “family” hospital. Funds were tight in those early days with John just out of law school. Before delivering her third baby, Barbara insisted they wait in the car even as her contractions grew closer together. It was late in the evening, and she didn’t want to pay for an extra night.
Supporting brain health
Today, the couple’s finances are secure. And in appreciation for research at Saint John’s that has benefited them directly, Barbara and John recently made a generous gift to support the work of three exceptional Saint John’s physicians, including a longtime friend of the family, geriatric psychiatrist David Merrill, MD, PhD, director of the Pacific Brain Health Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute (PNI).
The McLoughlins met Dr. Merrill when John, retired from his successful career as a corporate attorney, began experiencing mild cognitive decline. John started receiving care from Dr. Merrill, who was then working at another institution.
“My dad is a very bright, very cerebral, very accomplished man,” says daughter Linda McLoughlin Figel. “Dr. Merrill was just so amazing in helping us navigate those early stages, explaining what was involved and what it meant for my dad and our family.”
Impressed with Dr. Merrill’s research and grateful for his care, John and Barbara made their first substantial philanthropic donation, a five-year grant to fund Dr. Merrill’s work on slowing cognitive decline. When he moved to Saint John’s in 2018, the funding followed him to PNI. The McLoughlin family this year renewed their pledge with another five-year grant.
“The McLoughlins were a significant part of the reason I came here,” says Dr. Merrill. “They spoke enthusiastically about the hospital and the doctors, and that made me feel comfortable joining the Saint John’s family.” John’s treatment involves efforts “to slow down his cognitive decline and optimize his physical health,” says Dr. Merrill. “I work with him, Barbara and their children, as well as his other doctors, to address any issues and keep his outlook positive.”
Training brain & body together
John’s regimen combines medications for brain function and healthy lifestyle behaviors including exercise, a Mediterranean diet, minimizing stress and engaging in cognitively enriching activities such as reading financial news and reminiscing with his family. When John first came to Dr. Merrill, his son, Mike, asked how much time his father had remaining. Dr. Merrill estimated two years. That was 10 years ago. That’s why, when the McLoughlin’s gift to Dr. Merrill approached its completion at the end of 2020, Barbara insisted on renewing funding. Her children enthusiastically supported the decision. “Dr. Merrill’s research,” says Linda, “really spoke to us.”
“We’ve been studying and developing an on-site program where people perform cognitive training and physical exercise simultaneously. That seems to help both memory and frontal executive function in older adults at risk for memory loss,” says Dr. Merrill. “We hope this brain training will slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in those who already have it and may become part of a prevention protocol for those at risk. The McLoughlin’s gift will help support these prevention trials.”
“This program was built from donor contributions,” he adds. “Without philanthropy, we don’t have the funds to develop novel lifestyle programs. We’re looking to get the program covered by health insurance, but that’s a long process and we need good data from our pilot studies, which are donor-funded.”
About Dr. David Merrill
Dr. David Merrill, MD, PhD, is an adult and geriatric psychiatrist. He is director of the Pacific Brain Health Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute. He has worked for several decades with patients suffering the behavioral health sequelae of age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disorder. Through his early adoption of emerging clinical practice technologies, Dr. Merrill has developed a “precision holistics” approach that combines personalized genetic and biomarker data with the best evidenced-based treatments available for alleviating depression and cognitive dysfunction within the context of aging.
Written by Nancy Steiner
Nancy Sokoler Steiner is a freelance writer in Los Angeles and a previous contributor to PNI publications.
Adapted from Saint John’s Magazine Spring 2021 issue
Last updated: May 27th, 2021