Brain health in diverse communities is subject of FIU gathering in Washington

University researchers, officials, congressional policymakers and other leaders were in Washington earlier this month at an event sponsored by Florida International University to discuss solutions for preserving brain health in diverse communities.

According to research done by the Alzheimer’s Association, currently one in three seniors in the United States succumbs to Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. The Association predicts that by 2050 it will cost about $1.1 trillion per year to care for such patients.

FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work is researching the environmental, social and biological causes of neurological diseases, with an emphasis on the elderly and diverse populations of African Americans and Latinos in the United States.

The unique demography in Miami allows FIU to conduct what the school calls “ground zero” research for finding solutions to the growing problem.  The research hopes to enable legislation to tackle dementia in the country.

The gathering in Washington included Associate Dean Jason Richardson; Jason Resendez, chief of staff at the non-profit UsAgainstAlzheimer’s and executive director of the Latinos Against Alzheimer’s Coalition; and Dr. Carl Hill, director of the Office of Special Populations at the National Institute of Aging.

Nineteen FIU students were also at the meeting, breaking off into several teams with researchers and representatives of Congress, federal agencies, the White House and FIU leadership to brainstorm policy ideas of what can be done about brain health in diverse communities.

“I think here was an example of something where we can [turn words into deed] because of the of the talent we have on the ground and because of the credibility and reach we have in Washington, D.C.,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg.

Sophomore student Santiago Rivera said he’s passionate about how public policy interacts with human rights, specifically poverty, and how Alzheimer’s affects diverse groups economically.

“Coming from the ideas that I’ve already encountered in my life through environmental racism and all these disparities of economic and sociopolitical injustices we understand that health has an encompassing factor within it as well.”

With funding from the National Institutes of Health, researchers from FIU are devising strategies for early diagnosis of neurological disease; identification of toxic exposures; social and economic factors; and interventions for neurological disorders. Their research into health inequity and disparity emphasizes the impact of HIV, substance abuse and ethnicity on health.

Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, executive director for the Children’s Environmental Health Network, a Washington group whose mission is to protect developing children from environmental health hazards, said FIU brings an innovative approach to preventative measures related to  Alzheimer’s.

“We don’t have time,” she said. “The urgency is there. How are we putting the lessons learned, the evidence that’s already been created,  the reduction of stress that families are encountering, and the stress of possibly being diagnosed [with Alzheimer’s].”

Ymaris Tejeda is a reporter in the Caplin News’s Washington, D.C., Bureau.