Dr. Shenikqua Bouges and the Building Bridges Dementia Project: Magnificent Obsession


Dr. Shenikqua Bogges is an associate professor and clinic researcher at the UW-Madison School of Medicine & Public Health

By Jonathan Gramling

Dr. Shenikqua Bouges received her calling in life at the knee of her grandmother. Whenever someone they knew fell ill, they would look up possible treatments in their home book of remedies. And Bouges would feel a particular sense of satisfaction when the family member would feel better because of their intervention.

Spurred on by watching neurosurgery shows on television and too much illness within her own extended family, Bouges did summer internships during her undergraduate studies at Winthrop University. And upon graduation, she continued to conduct research at the labs.

“I started working as research specialist right after college in a cardiothoracic surgery research lab due to family history of a lot of sudden death from heart attacks,” Bouges said. “The research was nice as well, trying to develop a diagnostic test where you draw blood from an individual to detect if they are at a increase risk of having a heart attack right away in order to reduce the number of people who have those massive heart attacks, which end up being fatal.”

While Bouges enrolled at the Medical University of South Carolina medical school to earn a degree and then did her residency at the University of South Alabama specializing in internal medicine and pediatrics, it was

her work with older patients during medical school that sparked her eventual calling.

“We saw terminal case patients, especially older patients,” Bouges said. “I was a hospice volunteer at that time. Some of the patients who had a more dismal prognosis, I tended to form a connection with them and they helped me appreciate my experiences in med school more, especially when it got very challenging. Here was a patient who was dealing with a terminal disease, but was still able to put a smile on their face and say some uplifting words to me. That showed me that I really couldn’t complain about med school or the challenges that we were going through. I was still able to put my own clothes on and feed myself.”

Bouges’ interest in geriatrics brought her to the UW-Madison School of Medicine & Public Health on a geriatrics fellowship and worked in their memory clinics.

“I was exposed to the different areas of geriatric medicine and memory clinics specifically,” Bouges said. “I really did enjoy the interdisciplinary team approach that we used for caring for those patients. And with longer visits, you have the opportunity to spend a little bit more time with the patients, especially with geriatric patients who tend to be more complex. It’s hard to address all of their concerns in one visit. But when we are looking at a memory concern, we are able to step back and look at the full picture. You have to look at social concerns as well as the medical concerns and mental wellness as well. All of those factors are potentially contributing to the memory concerns that they are expressing. And so I really did enjoy my experience in the memory clinics. And that’s where it helped foster the interest I had when initially looking at cardiovascular risk factors. And it ties into risk factors that contribute to memory loss from a vascular standpoint. That’s where my research interests continue to grow here in Madison, looking at risk factors and how they are affecting individuals’ cognition.”

Bouges is now an assistant professor a d a clinical researcher. And she is studying the impact of dementia on the African American community.

“We want to make sure African Americans are well-informed and know about the research clinical studies that we have here,” Bouges said. “African American participation is important because we still don’t have a cure for dementia. And when we come up with a cure, we have to make sure that the medication works for all racial and ethnic groups. Sometimes with certain medications, different racial and ethnic groups are affected differently, similar with high blood pressure. But also we need to see what different racial and ethnic differences there are with the neurodegenerative disease process of dementia itself. Studies have shown that even the apolipoprotein E4 gene has a greater risk of someone acquiring dementia in a white or Caucasian group. If they have the apolipoprotein E4 gene, then they are at a greater risk as opposed to Blacks and African Americans, when they have that gene, their risk of getting dementia isn’t as high. Understanding those racial and ethnic differences with dementia prevalence and how different groups are impacted by the disease process as well as the testing is important. Making sure that threshold on the neurocognitive testing is a good threshold for all racial and ethnic groups.”

Bouges is particularly concerned because of the high prevalence of dementia in the African American community. And while she began to make connections in the African American community to inform people by attending exercise classes and other community functions, the pandemic and resulting shutdown ended outreach on that level. Instead, Bouges has developed podcasts to inform the community about dementia.

“Right now, we do Community Talks,” Bouges said. “It’s like a dementia series providing different topics on dementia. One of the topics is the Dementia Overview. It breaks down some of the medical terms in a simple format. Building off of that, I compare mild cognitive impairment to dementia and also highlight the fact that Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t equal dementia. It’s a type of dementia. It also describes the different types of dementia that are out there. Normal memory loss is when you forget someone occasionally from time to time. However with abnormal memory loss, that is someone who is forgetting more often. But when we are talking about dementia or neural degenerative process, that is someone who is forgetting more often and now it is starting to impact their day-to-day activities. That individual has trouble managing their finances. They may have trouble with medication management or driving, those types of day-to-day activities. Being very repetitive is a dementia symptom as well.”


They also offer a medication review. “Part of the project, as a way to give back to the community, is the Medication Review Sessions,” Bouges said. “It’s a one-on-one session where an individual provides their prescription medications as well as anything they take over the counter, provide that information to me ahead of time. I review the medication to look for any potential side effects that could impact their memory. I also look at the medication interactions to see if, from an indirect approach, that medication still might likely affect the individual’s memory or lower their vitamin levels.”

In order to encourage people to find out more about dementia, Bouges’ project, Building Bridges, is offering to pay people $30 to complete the Community Talks component and $30 for the Medication Review Sessions complete with pre and post surveys. Through these two components, Bouges hopes that the African American community will become more informed about dementia and become empowered to do something about it.

To find out more about Building Bridges, contact Deborah Noell, the project’s research coordinator at 608-262-2673 or dnoell@medicine.wisc.edu.