Home Lifestyle Health Study Examines How to Reduce Dementia, Alzheimer’s Risk in African Americans

Study Examines How to Reduce Dementia, Alzheimer’s Risk in African Americans

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THE ALZHEIMER'S PROJECT: CAREGIVERS: Marvine Harrell, Jackie Harrell. photo: Katja Heinemann/HBO
Holly Gainer
UAB News

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.

Pariya Fazeli Wheeler, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, received a two-year, $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Using known common risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, Wheeler will develop educational information that encourages healthy behaviors among African Americans to lessen their risk of developing 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. 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 Pamela Bowen, Ph.D., and David E. Vance, Ph.D., both with the School of Nursing; UAB Department of Psychology Professors Bulent Turan and Olivio Clay; and UAB School of Medicine Professor Virginia Wadley.

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.