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Addressing Rural Brain Health
Addressing Rural Brain Health

Grant to Help Detect Dementia in Underserved Communities

By Bethany Augliere

One in three older adults die with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias, but for certain minority groups, that risk is up to two times greater, and that risk is further increased for those in rural areas, according to Lisa Wiese, Ph.D.

To address a lack of early detection and management of dementia in rural and ethnically- and racially-diverse areas, Wiese, Ph.D., received a $250,000 grant from the Florida Department of Health’s Ed and Ethel Moore Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease Research. “It’s a trifecta of increased disparities experienced by rural racially, ethnically diverse and older adults,” said Wiese, an associate professor in FAU’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing. “Our hope is to address those disparities for people facing greater risks of developing dementia in underserved communities.”

For this project, titled, “Optimizing Rural Community Health Through Interdisciplinary Dementia Detection and Care (ORCHID),” Wiese and collaborators will focus on a cluster of farming communities comprised of Belle Glade, Pahokee, Canal Point and South Bay, together known as the Glades.

Nursing students, who live near or in the Glades, will partner with faith health educators at various churches in the community to offer brain health education and free health assessments related to Alzheimer’s risk, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. They will then follow residents identified with disease risk to connect with FAU College of Nursing adult

gerontological nurse practitioners for more in-depth cognitive assessments, which are shared with primary care providers.

Providers in the intervention group will receive dementia detection, diagnosis, management guidelines for disclosing dementia diagnoses, and strategies to address barriers to dementia diagnosis and care. Nursing students will support residents and their caregivers in connecting with available community resources, coordinated by Healthier Glades and Lake Okeechobee Rural
Health Network.

Wiese and colleagues want to test if this community-based participatory research will increase rates of dementia understanding, diagnosis and management, thus creating — a model for decreasing dementia disparities in
rural settings.

We’ve recognized that there are 12 potentially modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias,” said Wiese, including managing diabetes and high blood pressure, quitting smoking or getting enough sleep. “There is so much we can do to prevent or delay cognitive decline.” When it comes to dementia prevention, Wiese added, “early detection is the key. The earlier you intervene, the more successful those interventions are.”      


Photography by ILVIAJANSEN / iStock.com

Two FAU researchers were recently awarded a 2022 I-Health pilot grant for $25,000 to discover if adding an online exercise regime for older adults at risk of developing dementia in rural underserved communities can enhance brain health.

The co-principal investigators include Lisa Wiese, Ph.D., and JuYoung Park, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Social Work and Criminal Justice.

Through the project, titled “Testing a digital learning and online chair yoga intervention among rural underserved older adults at risk for cognitive decline,” students of Glades Central Community High School in Belle Glade, will partner with older adults to provide technology training. Through the grant, refurbished laptops are being supplied to the participants. One group of residents will participate in brain games, while another group will participate in virtual chair yoga sessions twice a week. The researchers will compare the two groups for change in activity levels and feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Researchers will follow-up at three and six months. “We’re excited about what we might find,” Wiese said.