Alzheimer’s study will look at risks across groups

A team of researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University have received a five-year, $25.3 million National Institute of Aging award to study gaps in our understanding of potential risks for Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease related dementias, or AD/ADRD.

The primary investigators are Kathleen Mullan Harris and Krista M. Perreira at UNC-Chapel Hill and Joseph Hotz and Naomi Duke at Duke.

Alzheimer’s is currently the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. But there are gaps in the understanding of risk and protective factors across racial and ethnic groups and socioeconomic status.

The new award builds upon the Add Health Parent Study, an ongoing study of social, behavioral and biological factors that influence healthy aging and the development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in a national sample of the baby boom generation, now moving through their late 60s and 70s. That study’s sample members are parents of adult children in the Add Health Study who have been followed for more than 25 years since adolescence. The new grant will enable investigators to increase samples of Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic parents in the Add Health Parent Study and link to longitudinal data on their children to make possible intergenerational research on racial/ethnic disparities in cognitive aging and risk of Alzheimer’s disease related dementias.

“Having longitudinal data on two generations will provide unprecedented research opportunities to understand how intergenerational processes in social conditions, behavior and lifestyle, and genomic factors affect cognition and health,” says Harris, the James E. Haar Distinguished Professor of Sociology and one of the four lead investigators for the Add Health Parent Study. “It is extremely rare to have sufficient sample sizes to study racial and ethnic disparities in the intergenerational predictors of AD/ADRD risk to inform policies to reduce such disparities.

The Add Health Parent Study is part of Add Health, the largest, most comprehensive, nationally representative and longitudinal study of the health of adolescents who have now aged into midlife ever undertaken in the United States. The parents of Add Health respondents were first interviewed in midlife when Add Health started in 1994-95 and their adolescent was in middle or high school. The Add Health Parent Study now follows this baby boom parent generation into old age as their adult children are in midlife, providing unique insights into intergenerational and lateral caregiving in the context of risks and conditions for Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease related dementias.

“There is little understanding of caregiving roles within and across families as older people live longer and AD/ADRD become more prevalent, especially among racial and ethnic minorities and those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder” says Perreira, professor of social medicine and a lead investigator on the parent study. “Our data will advance knowledge on how families cope when the signs of dementia appear and loved ones require full-time care.”

Todd Jensen, a research assistant professor in the UNC School of Social Work is a project co-investigator who will support preliminary analyses and the preparation and dissemination of study data.

“The data collected from this phase of the Add Health Parent Study will have tremendous utility,” said Jensen. “Particularly when coupled with Add Health, this expansion of Add Health Parent Study data will energize researchers across numerous disciplines who are working to understand and promote multigenerational health and well-being.”

Read more from the Carolina Population Center about how the grant will be used.

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