Research Scientists

One of the Center’s major goals is to enhance the diversity of the aging research workforce by identifying and mentoring scientists from and/or with interest in underrepresented groups who can advance research on AD and related dementias (ADRD).

Congratulations to the 2021-2022 AD-RCMAR Research Scientists:


Linda Sayed, PhD
2021 Scientist
Assistant Professor

James Madison College
Michigan State University

 

Project title: The Psychosocial Impact of COVID-19 on Aging Arab American

Abstract: Arab Americans make up nearly 30% of Dearborn, Michigan, comprising the most concentrated Arab population in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Considered the 3rd largest ethnic population in the state of Michigan, this group continues to remain invisible in aging research (Salari, 2002). The lack of research on the experiences of Arab immigrants and descendants residing in the United States is largely due to their official categorization as white on the U.S. Census. In the United States, Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) afflict 5.8 million individuals over the age of 65 (Dallo & Kindratt, 2019). Given that most studies on ADRD focus on a comparison between minorities and whites, illness afflicting Arab Americans, in particular, have been little studied given that they are categorized as a subgroup of whites (Gualtieri, 2009; Ajrouch et al., 2017). The objective of this project is to determine the impact of COVID-19 on the cognitive and brain aging of Arab Americans in the Metro-Detroit area. The central hypothesis is that aging Arab Americans, particularly recent immigrants and refugees, have been negatively impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the breakdown of various support systems and sociopolitical factors that shape their experiences in the U.S. The restriction of familial interactions taken as mitigation measures to reduce the spread of the virus coupled with limited social and health services has negatively affected aging Arab refugees and immigrants and left them with limited resources. The societal and familial changes brought about by COVID speak to the need to incorporate greater focus on ethnic and cultural factors in the analysis of cognitive aging particularly for refugee and immigrant communities whose experiences are shaped by sociopolitical factors both prior and after their arrival to the United States. Arab American immigrants and refugees are most impacted when familial and institutional support systems and resources are no longer made available. The proposed research will contribute to understanding the social experiences of aging Arab refugees and immigrants which is critical to designing the most effective quality intervention.


Helen C.S. Meier, PhD
2021 Scientist
Assistant Research Scientist

Population, Neurodevelopment and Genetics Program
Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan

 

Project Title: Metals exposure and risk of cognitive decline and ADRD in the Sacramento Area Latino Study on Aging.

Abstract:Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) are a growing public health burden with an estimated 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s currently; this number is expected to grow to 14 million by 2050. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the US and 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Communities of color are disproportionally affected by ADRD compared to non-Hispanic whites. Latinos have a higher risk of ADRD and acquire the disease 7 years earlier, on average, than non-Hispanic whites. This health disparity will likely intensify as the US Hispanic population over 65 years is predicted to grow from 4 million in 2016 to 19.9 million in 2060. To address this health inequality, there is an urgent need to understand contextual factors that may put Latino elders at a disproportionately higher risk of cognitive impairment, decline and ADRD in the US. Environmental exposures, such as metals, are of interest as contextual factors contributing to ADRD due to their known neurotoxic effects, particularly in early life. This study will use data from four waves of the Sacramento Latino Study on Aging (SALSA), where the blood concentration of eight individual metals (non-essential: lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and essential: iron, selenium, copper, zinc) are currently being measured via mass spectrometry, and link this information to existing survey data to estimate the association between these metals and cognitive decline and ADRD incidence in a sample of 1,027 Latino elders. We hypothesize that altered levels of non-essential metals will be socioeconomically patterned in this cohort. We also hypothesize that Latino elders with higher concentrations of non-essential metals will have greater cognitive decline and higher risk of ADRD incidence than those with lower concentrations of nonessential metals.


Ronica Rooks, PhD
2021 Scientist
Associate Professor

Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
University of Colorado Denver

 

Project Title: Late-life Work Engagement and Dementia in the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study.

Abstract: As the US’ population continues aging with longer life expectancies and delayed retirement, more older adults will likely work with cognitive impairments and mild dementia (Carr et al., 2020; Egdell et al., 2018; Silvaggi, Leonardi, et al., 2020). Qualitative research on middle-aged and older adults working with dementia in the United Kingdom shows working helps many cope with their diagnosis, manage their symptoms, stay connected with their social networks and maintain continuity in their lives when other things are changing (Ritchie et al., 2018). Research on those aged 50-65 with early onset dementia in an Australian work-site intervention program used work-buddies, daily debriefings, journaling and socialization, finding improved worker satisfaction and self-esteem (Silvaggi, Leonardi, et al., 2020). But, little research addresses the work experiences of older adults with ADRD (Silvaggi, Leonardi, et al., 2020). Research on racial disparities in the relationship between working and dementia, examining longitudinal data in the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (HABC) study, will fill this gap. This study’s public health relevance is to build evidence-based, contextual dementia research focused on reducing older Black adults’ dementia burden through working, leading to an NIA grant proposal on research to mitigate cognitive declines and ADRD via productive activities.

 


Ketlyne Sol, PhD
2021 Scientist
Clinical Psychologist

Research Investigator
Social Environment and Health Program
Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan

 

Project Title: Risk and resilience mechanisms underlying race disparities in ADRD: An examination of neighborhood resources, brain integrity, and cognition

Abstract: The mechanisms and moderators underlying race disparities in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) are understudied. These disparities may, in part, be due to racial differences in available neighborhood resources. The presence of these resources may contribute to brain and cognitive health in older adulthood. This study’s overall goal is to clarify risk and resilience mechanisms underlying race disparities in ADRD by: 1) Determining whether racial differences in neighborhood resources contribute to racial disparities in cognitive function and 2) Characterizing the role of brain integrity in associations between neighborhood resources and cognition. The research plan will leverage primary data collection efforts of the Michigan Cognitive Aging Project, which is a regionally-representative cohort study of older adults in Southeastern Michigan. This pilot grant will also facilitate the training and professional development of a junior scientist to accelerate the applicant’s trajectory towards ADRD research independence with a strong mentorship team at the University of Michigan. The mentorship team will provide expertise in cognitive aging, neuroimaging, geospatial analysis, and ADRD race disparities. The proposed research directly addresses the MADC’s goal of promoting research that identifies, furthers understanding of, and modulates the numerous non-β-amyloid factors that contribute to brain dysfunction and neurodegeneration.

2020 MCCFAD AD-RCMAR Scientists


Elizabeth Muñoz, PhD
2020 Scientist
Assistant Professor

Department of Human Development and Family Sciences
University of Texas at Austin

 

Abstract: The primary goal of this research is to develop a comprehensive multi-domain profile of psychosocial stress in a racially and ethnically diverse sample of adults and investigate how these are related to cognitive status and variability. Guided by propositions from the life span (Glymour & Manly, 2008) and epidemiology literature (Martikainen et al., 2002), I propose that psychosocial stress across domains clusters in distinct profiles that are linked with cognitive health through biological and behavioral mechanisms. Further, because cognitive decline may begin before old age, during midlife (Hughes et al., 2018), I propose an analysis in a diverse sample from midlife to older adults that incorporates multi-domain assessments of psychosocial stress to address the following aims:

Aim 1. To evaluate the hypothesis that there will be distinct psychosocial stress profiles that will distinguish racial and ethnic minorities from their counterparts.

Aim 2: To test the hypothesis that high-risk psychosocial stress profiles will be associated with lower cognitive function, and with greater cognitive variability. 2a: Test the hypothesis that high-risk psychosocial stress profiles will be associated with greater variability of cognitive performance within and across measurement bursts.

Aim 3: Test the hypothesis that the observed associations between stress profiles and cognitive status and variability are mediated by daily experiences and biological correlates of stress.

Tiffany Kindratt, PhD
2020 Scientist
Assistant Professor

Public Health Program
College of Nursing and Health Innovation
University of Texas at Arlington

 

Abstract: The increasing incidence and prevalence of ADRD and comorbid diabetes, in addition to the cognitive challenges that ADRD presents to appropriate diabetes monitoring and treatment, represents a serious barrier for patients to adhere to recommended standards of care. Adults with ADRD and comorbid diabetes may be less able to adhere to monitoring and treatment recommendations and less confident in their abilities to take care of their diabetes. Adults with ADRD and comorbid diabetes place a greater burden on caregivers than adults with ADRD alone. This presents a greater challenge for clinicians to provide recommended treatment and monitoring plans in collaboration with patients and caregivers. By identifying the prevalence of and adherence to standards of care on a national level, we can begin to examine ways to create policies and design interventions to reduce these challenges. Two innovative features of this study include: 1) a focus on diabetes care management among adults with ADRD and comorbid diabetes 2) a unique methodology designed to unmask Arab American health disparities using linked National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data. First, there is a gap in the literature on studies evaluating diabetes care treatment, monitoring, and self-efficacy among adults with ADRD and comorbid diabetes using nationally representative samples. This gap in the literature represents a significant barrier in our ability to provide patient- and family-centered care from providers, based on patient and caregiver perspectives. Second, by linking these two data sources, we can determine nationally representative estimates of ADRD and comorbid diabetes and adherence to standards of care among Arab American. This new method represents an innovative approach to uncover Arab American health disparities. 

Sandra P. ArévaloSandra P. Arévalo, PhD
2020 Scientist
Assistant Professor

Human Development
College of Liberal Arts
California State University, Long Beach

 

 

Abstract: The main objective of this study is to assess the needs and stressors affecting young adult Latino caregivers. This is an important research undertaking because young adults are at a critical developmental stage and most caregiver research, designed for the older caregiver population, may not capture the specific needs of this group. Using Pearlin’s Alzheimer’s caregivers’ stress framework, this study will model the multifactorial components promoting young adult Latino caregiver burdens that may contribute to the increase in stress, interfere with normal development, and ultimately increase mental and physical health disparities in Latinos. To reach young Latino caregivers, we will collect survey data from undergraduates attending, a large, public, urban university. This study goes beyond existing caregiver research focused on older predominantly NLW caregivers by collecting data from younger caregivers, i.e., 18-34 years of age, from an ethnically diverse public urban university, i.e., CSULB student population: 42.9% Latino, 22.3% Asian, 16.7% white, 4.78% two or more races, 3.6% Black, 6.2% non-resident aliens. Specific aims are to:

Aim 1: Characterize the prevalence and features of university undergraduates with current or previous caregiving responsibilities of a person with ADRD. Randomly selected instructors will be invited to share 5-10 minutes of class time to recruit participants; participants will also be recruited across public space on campus.

Aim 2: Examine cross-sectional associations between caregiver burdens and care intensity and young adult’s development and health outcomes in Latino caregivers.

Aim 3: Characterize qualitatively the influence of culture and community context on knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors on caregiving practices and quality of life of both Latino care- givers and -recipients.

2019 MCCFAD AD-RCMAR Scientists

Erica Diminich, PhDErica Diminich, PhD
2019 Scientist
Research Assistant Professor

Program in Public Health
Stony Brook University School of Medicine

Study Title: Identifying Risk Factors for Cognitive Impairment in Latinos: A Population Based Pilot Study of Biomarkers, Emotion and Stress

This pilot study will address a critical need to characterize plasma biomarkers of neuropathological change and pre-clinical AD-plasma biomarkers in a non-clinical sample of Latinos at mid-life. This work will also provide 1) preliminary evidence to assess the acceptability, feasibility and potential limitations in recruiting, engaging and retaining Latino participants in AD research involving venipuncture, and computer based assessments; 2) advance understanding of how chronic stress and risk factors identified in this application potentially influence neuropathological changes; 3) examine potential moderating effects of emotion and psychosocial functioning.

Marc Garcia, PhDMarc A. Garcia, PhD
2019 Scientist
Assistant Professor

Sociology & Institute for Ethnic Studies
University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Study Title: Age of Migration and Cognition: The Importance of Contextual Factors in Cognitive Aging Among Older Latinos in the United States.

The goal of this research is to identify potential mechanisms and multifactorial processes underlying the pathways that create and sustain cognitive health disparities among older Latino populations. Currently, there are no available empirical studies that use a nationally representative sample to identify cognitive decline, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s dementias among Latinos by age of migration and contextual factors. Prior research investigating cognitive outcomes have examined older Latinos as a monolithic group or have been limited to regional studies which focused on specific Latino populations. Thus, there is a critical need to examine the demographic diversity within the older Latino population to identify cognitive risk profiles by nativity status, age of migration, and environmental risk factors. This project will examine these disparities to better understand how underlying factors (i.e. gender and race/ethnicity), nativity status (i.e. foreign-born, age of migration), socioeconomic factors (i.e. education, income, and occupation), psychosocial factors (i.e. social support and depressive symptoms), behavioral factors (i.e. obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, alcohol consumption), physical factors (i.e. morbidity, physical functioning, and disability), and environmental factors (i.e. social/physical environment) contribute to heterogeneous cognitive health disparities among older Latinos. I will accomplish this through three aims: Aim 1: Investigate population-level trends in cognitively unimpaired, cognitive impairment no dementia (CIND), and dementia life expectancies among older Latinos by nativity and age of migration to the US. Aim 2: Evaluate population-level trends in cognitive decline among older Latinos by nativity and age of migration to the US. Aim 3: Investigate population-levels in the prevalence of CIND and dementia among older Latinos by nativity and age of migration to the US.

Salim Hayek, MDSalim Hayek, MD
2019 Scientist
Assistant Professor,
Medicine Cardiology
University of Michigan

Study Title: Using a “SuPAR” Biomarker to Evaluate the Burden of Inflammation and Its Impact on the Ethnoracial Differences in Cognitive Decline.

Inflammation is increasingly recognized as a major component of the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). While numerous epidemiological studies suggest that use of anti-inflammatory drugs is associated with a lower incidence of AD, clinical trials have been largely disappointing. Peripheral biomarkers of inflammation may identify a subgroup of AD patients that could benefit from anti-inflammatory therapy. Moreover, differences in inflammatory burden may account for ethnoracial differences in the prevalence and progression of AD. Characterizing the burden of inflammation in AD is however challenging, and the association of traditional blood-based measures of inflammation with AD and cognitive decline has been inconsistent. We propose characterizing levels of soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (suPAR) – a novel marker of chronic immune activation – in patients with AD, determine whether levels can predict declining cognitive function, and assess whether differences in the burden of inflammation accounts for ethnoracial differences in cognitive decline.

2018 MCCFAD AD-RCMAR Scientists

Danielle L. Beatty Moody, PhDDanielle L. Beatty Moody, PhD
2018 Scientist
Associate Professor

Department of Psychology
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Study Title: Early Life Adversity and Cognitive Decline in Middle-Aged to Older African Americans in HANDLS

This project will be the first to comprehensively investigate early life adversity (ELA; e.g., childhood socioeconomic status [CSES], MIDUS childhood context indicators, & Adverse Childhood Experiences [ACEs]) in relation to cognitive decline in middle-aged to older urban-dwelling, African American adults, without neurological disease. Use of prospective data on multiple cognitive outcomes among African Americans in this age range represents a major advantage of the NIH-funded Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS) study in comparison to other studies, allowing us to detail these associations more extensively. This pilot project will allow for initial exploration of these linkages, in preparation for a R01 that will aim to elucidate biopsychosocial mechanisms underlying the relation of ELA to cognitive decline among African Americans. The Specific Aims of this project are, Aim 1: Determine whether greater ELA is associated with decline in cognitive functioning among African Americans. ELA in childhood will be assessed by CSES, MIDUS indicators, and ACEs. Cognitive functioning will be assessed by neurocognitive tests of verbal and nonverbal learning and memory, attention, working memory, visuospatial skills, psychomotor speed, and executive function. We hypothesize that greater ELA in childhood will be associated with greater decline in these endpoints over follow-up, independent of adult SES and key sociodemographic, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment variables. Aim 2: Determine whether cardiometabolic risk factors serve as mediators of the relation of ELA in childhood to decline in cognitive functioning among African Americans. A cardiometabolic risk factor composite will be comprised of blood pressure, body mass index, total cholesterol, glucose, insulin, and CRP. We hypothesize that greater cardiometabolic risk will partially account for the relation of ELA in childhood to cognitive endpoints in adulthood (outlined in Aim #1). Overall, this project may promote greater understanding of the role ELA plays in the earlier onset of poorer cognitive functioning among African Americans.

Laura Y. Cabrera, PhDLaura Y. Cabrera, PhD
2018 Scientist
Assistant Professor
, Neuroethics
Michigan State University

Study Title: Latinos Perceptions and Concerns about Alzheimer’s Disease

Increasing evidence highlights the role of individual and cultural values in the experience of caregiving challenges (Sherman, Webster and Antonucci, 2013; Nápoles et al., 2010). As such, are the expectations and burdens of caregivers the same across Latino groups? It is recognized that beliefs surrounding memory loss and AD caregiving vary across racial/ethnic groups; such variability affects the level and type of interaction between patients, families, and the healthcare system (Janevic & Connell, 2001; Roberts et al., 2003). However, are there ethnically distinct interactions among Latino groups? How might the acceptability of AD intervention and related efficacy vary across Latino groups? As part of the MCCFAD, we will explore, in a systematic and culturally sensitive fashion, levels of familiarity with symptoms associated with AD, diagnosis and care, and perceptions and concerns about AD, as well as barriers to care among Mexican and Puerto Rican, the predominant -Latino groups in the Grand Rapids, Michigan region.
Specific Aim 1: Examine perceptions and concerns about AD symptoms, diagnosis, and care among Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in the Grand Rapids region.
Our main objective is to identify and assess perceptions and concerns regarding AD symptoms, diagnosis and care in the two identified Latino groups.
We held five Focus Groups (three with Mexicans, and two with Puerto Ricans), as well as two interviews with Puerto Ricans participants employing open-ended questions about AD, predictive testing, diagnosis, progression of disease and care. Focus Group interview guide was first discussed with a community advisory board, composed of Latino community leaders, to develop a cultural sensitive interview process that takes in consideration social context.

Florence Dallo, PhD, MPHFlorence Dallo, PhD, MPH
2018 Scientist
Chair and Associate Professor
, Department of Public and Environmental Wellness
School of Health Sciences
Oakland University

Study Title: The Epidemiology of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) among Arab Americans Compared to non-Hispanic whites (NHW), non-Hispanic blacks (NHB), Hispanics, and Asian Americans in the US and Michigan

Study Purpose: The overall goal of the study is to understand the epidemiology, specifically prevalence
and risk factors for and mortality related to ADRD among Arab Americans ages 45 and older compared
to non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanic and Asian Americans. The three specific aims are
to: 1) Estimate the national prevalence of and risk factors for ADRD using US Census and National Health
Interview Survey data; and 2) Estimate ADRD-specific mortality rates using data from the Michigan
Department of Health and Human Services using a surname list.

Methods: For aim 1, percents and odds ratios were calculated. For aim 2, we will use an Arab name
algorithm that uses first, last, and maiden name, along with standard race and ethnicity variables to
identify Arab Americans use state data. We will calculate death rates. The data base will be de-identified
prior to data analysis.

Summary of Results to Date: Arab Americans are more likely to have ADRD compared to other groups (10.3% for Arab Americans; ~ 7.5% for US-born non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Asians; and 8.6% for Hispanics). Also, Arab Americans are 1.4 times more likely to have ADRD compared to US-born non-Hispanic whites when controlling for other factors.