$5.67M Grant Helps UM Researchers Identify Early Signs of Alzheimer’s in Elderly Hispanics

A new University of Miami study, aimed at identifying early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurocognitive decline among Latinos and Hispanics, could help delay or even prevent its onset thanks to a $5.67 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging.

“This study will examine health risks associated with neurocognitive decline including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking,” said Neil Schneiderman, Ph.D., a member of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Principal Investigator of the Miami Field Center for the Study of Latinos-Investigation of Neurocognitive Aging (SOL-INCA).

“A major goal of our research is to differentiate mild cognitive impairment from normal aging,” according to Schneiderman, a 51-year faculty veteran in UM’s Department of Psychology and a professor of medicine, psychiatry and biomedical engineering. “Not all people with mild cognitive impairment develop Alzheimer’s disease and SOL-INCA may help us to understand factors that may make a difference.”

UM scientists will collaborate with research teams in the U.S. to study and gather health data from nearly 7,000 middle-aged and older adults in the Bronx, Chicago, Miami and San Diego. The research will include diverse Hispanics and Latinos between the ages of 50 and 80 who may show signs of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, which is thought to be an early form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Since it’s estimated that nearly one-third of the U.S. population will be of Hispanic or Latino origin by 2050, the implications of the study could prove to be important to the nation’s public health in the future.

“This is the first time that we’ve been able to look at neurocognitive decline in diverse Hispanic and Latino heritage groups,” said Marc D. Gellman, Ph.D., research associate professor of psychology, Associate Director of the Division of Health Psychology and Associate Director for Administration at the Behavioral Medicine Research Center. “With the new funding, this study will help us examine when someone starts to decline cognitively. For example, we will ask participants how good they feel about their memory, whether they have trouble remembering people’s names, appointments and messages.”

The original Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (SOL) included more than 4,000 participants from Miami-Dade County – the majority of whom were of Cuban or South or Central American descent. Researchers with the landmark study have collected a wealth of data including disease risks, mental health, sleep habits and genetic profiles. Research findings have shown high rates of cardiovascular disease and smoking among various Hispanic heritage groups.

“This study will help us close the knowledge gaps with respect to dementia among Latinos and Hispanics and also examine associated diseases, risk factors and the role of genetics,” said Clinton Wright, M.D., M.S., associate professor of neurology, Director of the Division of Cognitive Disorders and Scientific Director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the Miller School. “Our growing Hispanic and Latino population in the U.S. as a whole makes it increasingly important to understand these issues so that we can design public health interventions.”

Identifying protective factors, early risk interventions and pertinent genetic data are key objectives of the SOL-INCA study.

Wright said the study would also help explain the paradoxes among these groups. “For example, we don’t understand why Latinos often have low mortality rates but experience low socioeconomic status, or why some Latinos have little neurocognitive disease rates but high cardiovascular disease prevalence.”

The SOL-INCA study is part of a larger examination of 16,415 Hispanics and Latinos sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and six other institutes, centers, and offices of the National Institutes of Health.

For further information about the Hispanic Community Health Study, please contact Maria Pattany, M.D., at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 305.243.1438.

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