By Erica Techo
Research shows African Americans are more than twice as likely than other populations to be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Despite these statistics, little research has centered on African Americans and what can be done to mitigate their risk factors for developing these cognitive aging conditions.
With a two-year, $400,000 R21 grant from the National Institutes of Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Assistant Professor Pariya Fazeli Wheeler, PhD, using known common risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, is developing tailored educational information that encourage healthy behaviors among African Americans to lessen their risk of developing these cognitive aging conditions.
“Given the growing public health issues of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, this seemed like the right time to translate my existing work in successful cognitive aging with HIV into work that focuses on dementia prevention,” Wheeler said. “As I was thinking about writing this grant and what I wanted my next research steps to be, I completed the UAB Health Disparities Research Training Program (HDRTP). This allowed me to see my idea in a new light. I recognized that dementia prevention in African Americans is an area missed in science so far and chose this focus to further develop my research.”
Study participants will be asked about their exercise, eating, social and other daily habits to help develop their risk factor profile. From there, a tailored plan will be created for each individual to help maximize their potential role in healthy brain aging in hopes a tailored individual plan will encourage participants to engage in healthy behaviors.
The goal of the project is to determine the effectiveness of the tailored plans versus general education on risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
“We hope with both of the groups receiving dementia education all will improve their dementia risk factor knowledge and brain health literacy. We also hope the individuals with a tailored risk factor profile are more likely to engage in the recommended activities more than those without a tailored profile,” Wheeler said. “If the tailored profile is effective in this study, we can move forward with future, larger studies and see if these actions help prevent or reduce cognitive issues as African Americans age.”
Co-investigators working with Wheeler on the grant include School of Nursing Assistant Professor Pamela Bowen, PhD, CRNP, FNP-BC and Professor and Interim Associate Dean for Research David E. Vance, PhD; UAB Department of Psychology Professors Bulent Turan and Olivio Clay; and UAB School of Medicine Professor Virginia Wadley. Bowen’s research focuses on emphasizing physical activity to positively affect overall health within the African-American population. Clay and Bowen will provide expertise on recruitment and retention of African American research participants, and Turan will provide guidance on text message adherence protocol. Vance and Wheeler have a long history of working together on successful aging with HIV projects, and developed the conceptual model for this R21 together years ago. Wadley and Vance will provide general expertise on study implementation, including assessments and educational materials developed for the study.
Following this two-year study, Wheeler hopes to expand the study and apply for an R01 grant. Increased funding would allow for a larger group of participants and a longer study.