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Study of dementia and healthy brain aging in Black Americans extended for 5 years

National Institute on Aging gives $24 million to project run jointly by Kaiser Permanente and UC Davis

The Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR) will be funded for another 5 years by the National Institute on Aging, with a $24 million grant.

The project started in 2017 as a partnership between the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research (DOR) and the University of California, Davis. STAR’s goal is to identify risk and protective factors for dementia throughout life among Black Americans. They experience up to double the burden of dementia compared with white Americans.

Paola Gilsanz, ScD

The researchers follow a group of about 750 older Black Kaiser Permanente members who live in the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento areas. The researchers have access to many years of health data about them and use it to analyze factors throughout the lifespan that might affect brain health.

The study’s principal investigators are Paola Gilsanz, ScD, a research scientist with the Division of Research, and Rachel Whitmer, PhD, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences and Neurology and co-director of the university’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

“We are excited to continue STAR for another 5 years and extend our work looking at how experiences across the lifecourse of Black and African American adults contribute to brain health,” said Gilsanz. “With the ability to further follow these individuals over time, we will be better able to understand the cognitive aging transition and how to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment in this important population.”

Whitmer, who is also an adjunct investigator with DOR, said STAR fills an important gap in evidence. “There have not been a lot of studies following this community from middle age into late life and we know that understanding the risk and protective factors over time holds the key to improving brain health and reducing disparities,” she said.

The study has produced important insights about a wide variety of life experience, lifestyle, and health factors that may be related to brain health in this group of people. These include school segregation, being born in a state with high risk of stroke, and health conditions such as hypertension early in life. The study also found some factors that might help brain health, such as reading or playing games regularly, and volunteering.

“Dr. Whitmer and I are so grateful to our STAR participants, who are helping us better understand brain health in their community and how to reduce risk,” Gilsanz added.

For additional detail see the UC Davis news release.

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