Jared Tinklenberg, noted Alzheimer’s disease researcher, dies at 80

The founder of the Stanford/Veterans Affairs Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Tinklenberg researched new medications for dementia while providing mentorship to many.

- By Tracie White

Jared Tinklenberg

Jared Tinklenberg, MD, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral science, a leader in Alzheimer’s disease research and a mentor to many, died Nov. 18. He was 80. 

Tinklenberg was a clinician and scientist at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System for more than 40 years. He established the Stanford/VA Alzheimer’s Disease Center, which has been in operation at the Palo Alto VA for 20 years. He retired in 2019.

“Jared Tinklenberg’s dedication to advancing Alzheimer’s care, conducting transformative research and mentoring people in his field stands as a remarkable and enduring legacy,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. “His impact on Stanford Medicine was immeasurable, and he will be sorely missed.”

Throughout his career, he served as a mentor to both junior and senior faculty.

“He was really sort of proactive and a visionary,” said Ruth O’Hara, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and senior associate dean for research at the medical school. She said Tinklenberg was her mentor from 1995, when she first arrived at Stanford, until he died.

“He really was at the forefront of Alzheimer’s research,” said O’Hara, the Lowell W. and Josephine Q. Berry Professor. “Not only on the science of pathophysiology and the importance of biomarkers, but on treatments and how to support caregivers as well. He was also one of the kindest people you’ve ever met. You always felt he had your best interests at heart.”

Tinklenberg began his research in psychopharmacology and drug abuse in the 1960s. He cared for many veterans of the Vietnam War who returned home with addiction problems. Then, to care for the aging veteran population he served, he switched his focus to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. He never lost his interest in psychopharmacology.

 “Jerry was in the service himself, and he went out of his way to talk with the vets,” said Jerome Yesavage, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a longtime colleague and friend of Tinklenberg’s who worked with him for many years at the Palo Alto VA. “He talked to the World War II vets and the Korean vets. He researched anti-dementia drugs for use in different populations, especially those minority and underserved populations.”

Yesavage, who holds the Jared and Mae Tinklenberg Professorship and considered Tinklenberg a mentor, co-authored many research papers with him. They used to jog together during lunch breaks when they were younger, then took walks as they grew older.

“Jerry was the son of a Presbyterian minister, and he was very concerned about ethics and the morality of everything that went on,” Yesavage said. “He carried that forward into his work, researching minority issues and social justice issues.”

Native of South Dakota

Tinklenberg was born Nov. 25, 1939, in South Dakota. His father was a chaplain in the U.S. Navy and served in World War II. The younger Tinklenberg was a football and track star in high school. After graduation, he volunteered for six months in the U.S. Army, then eight years in the reserves.

He earned a bachelor’s degree and medical degree from the University of Iowa. In 1964, he married Mae Vander Weerd, and they moved to New Haven, Connecticut, for his internship at Yale University. In 1966, the couple’s first daughter, Karla, was born, and they moved to California for Tinklenberg’s psychiatry residency at Stanford. Their second daughter, Julie, was born in 1968. 

“He was definitely someone that I always looked up to,” said Julie Tinklenberg, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Stanford. She and Karla are both psychiatrists. “His whole thing was living simply. He was a vegan, leaving a small footprint, very humble, and politically active for social justice.”

In 1974, Tinklenberg was selected to serve on the White House Drug Abuse Council, and the family moved to Washington, D.C., for a year. 

In 2017, his daughters endowed the Jared and Mae Tinklenberg Professorship. 

Pauline Luu, clinical research manager at the VA, who worked in the same office as Tinklenberg for about three decades, said people in the office were mourning his death. 

“I was a refugee from Vietnam,” Luu said. “Five years after I came to the U.S., I found this job here starting as an office assistant. He always talked to me about where I came from and encouraged me. I never could have become what I am without his help. He had such a calm, simple approach to handling stress. The minute I talked to him, the whole world seemed better. He just made you feel part of the team.”

Tinklenberg ran marathons earlier in life and often enjoyed birdwatching and hiking with his family. He is survived by his wife, daughters and five grandchildren. Donations in his memory may be made to Human Rights Watch or the Nature Conservancy. A memorial was held Dec. 1.

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