Alzheimer’s disease is the fourth leading cause of death among older Black Americans, a trend that is expected to increase exponentially during the next five to 10 years.
To address the growing disparity and identify multi-level risk factors impacting the higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease among middle-aged and older Black adults, Corewell Health neuroscientist and metabolomicist Stewart Graham, Ph.D., an associate professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, in collaboration with Travonia Brown-Hughes, Ph.D., associate professor, Hampton University, and Johns Hopkins Resource Center Minority Aging Research scientist and Roland J. Thorpe, Ph.D., social epidemiologist with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Johns Hopkins Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center for Minority Aging, are spearheading a first-of-its-kind, five-year, $4.8 million research project funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“The objective is to identify multiple modifiable environmental and social factors of cognitive aging in older Black adults to gain a better understanding of why they are up to two times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s and dementia,” said Graham, the director of Metabolomics Research and the John and Marilyn Bishop Endowed Chair and director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at Corewell Health’s Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.
Using remote cognitive assessments, risk factors and chemical biomarkers collected from 600 Black Americans, age 55 and older, with varying levels of education, the project aims to examine the biopsychosocial factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
Identified as the Black American United Memory & Aging Project, the study, which started recruiting participants in September, is unique in that it will be conducted exclusively online.
Once a year, participants will be paid to complete a questionnaire and memory tests that are comparable to an online game. They also will be asked to use a cell phone they receive in the mail to complete additional memory tests over a seven-day period.
During the first and fourth years of the study, participants will be asked to provide saliva and urine samples for specific biomedical measurements.
“The more we learn about how and why Alzheimer’s disease is more prevalent in Black Americans, the better equipped we are to meet the needs of all our patients,” said Carlos Cubia, Chief Inclusion, Equity, Diversity and Sustainability Officer for Corewell Health.
As the study’s three principal investigators, Graham, Brown-Hughes and Thorpe will also be supported by research teams at Clemson University, the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forrest University and the Children's National Hospital.
“This first-of-its-kind study harnesses the diverse expertise of six distinguished academic centers across the United States,” Graham said. “Our goal is to deepen our understanding of the intricate interplay between racial disparities, psychological stressors, aging and memory within the Black population. Together, we have the potential to better understand Alzheimer’s disease and develop effective, tailored behavioral and pharmacological interventions. With these things in mind, we are encouraging individuals within the Black community who wish to help close the racial gap related to age-related memory impairment to consider participating.”
For more information or to volunteer to participate in this study, visit secure.ba-umap.com.