USC PRC Researchers Establish the South Carolina Healthy Brain Research Network

Daniela Friedman

Daniela Friedman

 

Sara Wilcox

Sara Wilcox

 

Sue Levkoff

Sue Levkoff

With five-year funding ($475,000) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers from the University of South Carolina have launched the South Carolina Healthy Brain Research Network. A project of the USC PRC, this network is one of five hosted by leading institutions across the United States. The networks are sponsored by CDC’s Healthy Aging Program in support of the Healthy Brain Initiative.

Alzheimer’s disease is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death even though recent estimates claim that deaths related to Alzheimer’s are underreported—suggesting that this disease may cause deaths at a rate more comparable to cardiovascular disease and cancer. Further, approximately 5.2 million adults are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and experts predict this number may reach 7.1 million by 2025 with a projected $1.2 trillion spent annually to care for these individuals.

As a result, the U.S. public health agenda now prioritizes the development of effective strategies to reduce the risk of and treat Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias which has led to national initiatives such as the S.C. Healthy Brain Research Network. Leading up to the funding of this new network, a team of researchers from the CDC-funded Healthy Aging Research Network engaged in a two-part study to better understand public perceptions about factors that positively impact (i.e., maintain or reduce risk) cognitive function. First, they conducted focus groups across the U.S. and submitted questions to national surveys to learn about individual opinions related to cognitive health and impairment. The second step involved a comprehensive literature review on the topic, examining 1000 abstracts and 34 studies in-depth.

The study, published in International Psychogeriatrics, concluded that members of the general public are able to identify risk factors for cognitive impairment, such as genetics and older age. “They were also aware that certain factors, such as physical or social activities and healthy diet, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” says lead author Daniela Friedman, who is an associate professor at the Arnold School. These perceptions were consistent regardless of nationality, race/ethnicity or gender.

The project is led by principal investigator Daniela Friedman (USC PRC Affiliate and Associate Profession of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior) with Sara Wilcox (Director of the USC PRC and Professor of Exercise Science) and Sue Levkoff (Professor and Endowed Chair of Social Work) serving as co-investigators. Rebecca Hunter (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) will consult on the grant.

For more information, visit http://www.sph.sc.edu/news/healthybrain.html.