NIH Awards $1.1M to Improve Latino Representation in Dementia Research in West Michigan

The National Institutes of Health awarded the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (Michigan ADRC), a statewide collaborative between the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University, a $1.1 million grant to advance Latino representation in dementia research.

Health disparities in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) research continue to be a major social and health justice challenge that affect the most vulnerable populations in the United States. Rapid population growth, increased elder population, and geographic spread are more prominent in Latinos than in any other ethnic group. Between 2008 and 2030, the Latino population 65 and older is expected to increase 224%, compared to 65% for the non-Latino white population of the same age. This demonstrates the critical need for increasing research representation in this population. 

The goal of this new award is to establish a representative cohort in Grand Rapids that enhances the representation of Latino Americans in ADRD research, utilize community partnerships to disseminate information about early signs of cognitive impairment among health workers, and develop a model that improves access to cognitive assessments for older Hispanic and Latino adults.

The center will develop a new model, called “From Trusted Contact to First Responder” to conduct this work, with the goal of building and maintaining a cohort of 24 older Latino Americans in its first year. It will leverage partnerships with community organizations and a community clinic to establish the cohort while enhancing resources and access to healthcare within these underserved communities in West Michigan. The center will collaborate with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Exalta Health, and the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter to achieve these goals.

Dr. Irving Vega, Associate Professor of Translational Neuroscience at Michigan State University and current Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Research Education Component Co-Leader will lead this effort. “This new effort to include underrepresented groups in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) research provides the opportunity to address different aspects that contribute to health disparities and lack of participation in research within the Latino community. First, we will implement a community partnership that brings resources to enhance the capabilities of community organizations that serve the Latino community in West Michigan. Training of healthcare providers and community health workers on ADRD at our community partners institutions, Exalta Health and Hispanic Center of West Michigan, will have an impact beyond the limits of the research program. Second, the successful implementation of our research activities will establish a framework that other Centers and researchers across the US could use to enhance participation of underrepresented groups in research. I am confident that researchers and community leaders working as equal partners within the available facilities in the community will bring us closer together to reduce health disparities associated with ADRD,” said Dr. Vega.

Evelyn Esparza-Gonzalez, Executive Director, Hispanic Center of West Michigan shared, “It is an honor for the Hispanic Center to partner with Exalta Health, University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University to increase Latino representation in dementia research. We are grateful for the intentionality of these institutions to develop culturally sensitive approaches that take into consideration language and systemic barriers that prevent underserved and underrepresented communities to form part of research. We are committed to this work and look forward to its impact in our Latino community.”

Finally, Ed Postma, President, Exalta Health commented, “Exalta Health is grateful to be working with the Hispanic Center as well as Michigan State University, [Wayne State University] and the University of Michigan to undertake an essential study of dementia in the Hispanic community. Exalta Health is a nonprofit clinic that serves the healthcare needs of the uninsured, underinsured and those who are refugees with an integrated health model. This study is vital to understand the needs of the underserved Hispanic population.”

This work will also leverage the success of the Michigan Center for Contextual Factors in Alzheimer’s Disease (MCCFAD), an Alzheimer’s disease-focused Center coordinated by the Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (AD-RCMAR) and funded by the National Institute on Aging, in which Dr. Vega serves as the Community Liaison and Recruitment Core Co-Lead. Through his work with MCCFAD, Dr. Vega has developed the Research Volunteer Directory, a still-growing contact directory of over 400 adults who identify as Hispanic/Latino and are interested in research.

With this new award, the center will also expand its team to include additional members who are fluent in Spanish, provide educational materials in Spanish, and provide its feedback program – a first-of-its-kind program that provides research results directly to participants – to enhance healthcare services for this traditionally underserved population.

This initiative builds upon the center’s already strong success in Detroit recruiting almost 700 African Americans to research efforts since 2012. This was made possible by a commitment to fostering strong partnerships with local organizations and bringing research visits to the local area. 

This work will further the Michigan ADRC’s statewide impact and support national efforts to develop new and culturally sensitive recruitment approaches for underserved and underrepresented communities facing enhanced risk of ADRD.

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