Walter A. Rocca, M.D., M.P.H., studies the causes and consequences of common neurological diseases such as dementia and Parkinson's disease. He also studies the differences in aging processes between men and women, with special focus on the effects of menopause and estrogen. Thus, Dr. Rocca's work lies at the intersection of neurology, epidemiology, gynecology, endocrinology and aging.
Dr. Rocca uses clinical information collected during routine medical care as well as information collected in special research interviews or exams. This research usually involves groups of subjects with or without a particular disease, taking or not taking a particular drug, or with or without a particular risk or protective factor. The data collected from the study participants are analyzed using epidemiologic or statistical techniques.
- Neurological diseases in men and women. Neurological diseases, such as dementia, Parkinson's disease and stroke, are different in men and women because of genetic, hormonal and sociocultural differences, a phenomenon known as dimorphic neurology. Dr. Rocca is currently studying the effects of menopause and estrogen on brain aging in women.
- The causes of Parkinson's disease. Dr. Rocca has contributed extensively to the understanding of risk factors for or predictors of higher risk of Parkinson's disease, such as family history, head trauma, pesticide exposure and anemia, and protective factors or predictors of lower risk, such as coffee consumption and smoking.
- The causes of dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Dr. Rocca is one of the methodologists for the Mayo Clinic Olmstead Study of Aging in Olmsted County, Minnesota. This study focuses on prevalence, incidence, risk and protective factors, fluid biomarkers, and imaging biomarkers for mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
- The Rochester Epidemiology Project. Dr. Rocca is co-director of the Rochester Epidemiology Project, a medical records linkage system. This is one of the few records databases in the world in which medical record information is stored and linked over time across multiple institutions. The system has been in existence for more than 50 years and currently includes approximately 700,000 individuals.
- Multimorbidity and aging. Dr. Rocca studies the prevalence, incidence, composition, risk factors for and outcomes of multimorbidity. He is also investigating how the accumulation of multimorbidity may be used as a clinical marker of accelerated aging.
Significance to patient care
Dr. Rocca's research into risk or protective factors for neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and dementia, helps prevent and better treat these diseases in both men and women. Dr. Rocca's research into the mechanisms of aging in men and women is key to future interventions to improve the health of an expanding population of older adults. Dr. Rocca's work on the risks and benefits of bilateral oophorectomy in premenopausal women has transformed gynecologic practice.
- Member, Editorial board, Gynecological and Reproductive Endocrinology, 2019-present
- Member, Editorial board, Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatrie (in Portuguese), 2017-present
- Member, Editorial board, Menopause, 2009-present
- Member, Editorial board, Maturitas, 2008-present
- Highly Cited Researcher, Web of Science Group, 2019
- World Expert in Menopause, Expertscape, 2019
- Educator of the Year Award, Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Mayo Clinic, 2017
- Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging Director's Award for Outstanding Contribution to Aging Research, Mayo Clinic, 2015
- Chair, Clinical Research Subcommittee, American Academy of Neurology, 2011-2015
- Member, Science Committee, American Academy of Neurology, 2007-2015
- Ralph S. and Beverley E. Caulkins Professor of Neurodegenerative Diseases Research, Mayo Clinic, 2011
- Best Paper of the Year Award, Menopause, North American Menopause Society and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009