Assembling a nationally respected team of nurse, physician and mental-health leaders with broad expertise in brain health and minority aging, UC Davis has established the Latino Aging Research Resource Center (LARRC), through a prestigious five-year, $3 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
Latinos are a rapidly aging population comprising one-third of the Central Valley's residents. They face health disparities such as socioeconomic disadvantage and a lack of adequate health care that place a disproportionate burden on their families, particularly Latinas, in part because Latinos traditionally care for family members at home.
The center is the one of seven NIA-funded Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research in the nation and is the only one focused on aging Latino cognitive health. It builds on the internationally respected leadership in Latino mental-health disparities and cognitive decline of the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center, UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities as well as excellence in gerontological nursing of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.
"We need to identify and train a larger cadre of committed researchers if we are to advance the science and reduce cognitive health disparities for aging Latinos and their families," said principal investigator and center Director Ladson Hinton, director of geriatric psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a researcher at the Alzheimer's Disease Center.
The center includes faculty at both the schools of medicine and nursing. Its co-directors are Heather M. Young, associate vice chancellor for nursing and dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis and Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the Center for Reducing Health Disparities, a part of the Clinical and Translational Science Center.
"This center is different from others in the United States in that it focuses on older Latinos, an under-studied and historically underserved population with compelling evidence of disparities in access to quality health care," Aguilar-Gaxiola said. "Its research focuses on workforce-development in California's Central Valley, an economically depressed region with the poorest health indicators in the nation. We are excited at the prospect of transforming and improving the health of older Latinos in urban and rural areas. To accomplish this goal, we will build on an already established network of academic centers, community leaders and agencies serving large numbers of Latinos in the Central Valley.
"We are deeply committed to finding innovative ways to support older Latinos and Latinas and their families in their later years, in order to improve their health and quality of life," he said.
Preventing and treating degenerative brain diseases is a national public-health imperative, and Latinos experience well-documented risk factors for these diseases, such as lower socioeconomic status, less formal education, vascular disease, and diabetes and depressive symptoms.
"Research of a population's health-care needs must take into account health, socioeconomic factors and historical cultural perspectives," Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean Young said. "We hope to entice young Latino scientists from across professions to add their expertise and then support them in their research, thus building capacity for the future."
The center emphasizes community engagement through mentoring to encourage people to participate in research and disseminate brain-health information to Latino communities. The center will award new pilot research grants each year. Initial pilot projects include:
- Community volunteerism has been found to improve cognitive health among other ethnic groups. Sarah Farias, associate professor in the Department of Neurology, is conducting community-based interviews with older Latinos to examine barriers to and benefits of volunteering for cognitive health.
- Latinas are central to the care of adults in cognitive decline and report experiencing greater depression and stress than other ethnic groups. Ester Carolina Apesoa-Varano, assistant professor at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, is studying caregiver experiences, patient-health outcomes and Latina caregiver well-being.
- Lorena Garcia, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, is examining the impact of neighborhood context on older Latinos' risk of diabetes.
Other U.S. Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research are at UC San Francisco, UCLA, the University of Southern California, the University of Colorado, the University of Michigan and the University of Alabama. The LARRC was established through NIA grant 1P30AG043097-01.