UMD study looking for Portuguese-Americans to join study

DARTMOUTH — Marcel Berube, 83, enjoys relatively good health, but when he recently learned about a UMass study that is investigating the Portuguese-American aging process, he did not hesitate to sign up.
“I am curious to find out how well I am doing,” the Fairhaven resident told O Jornal, while he was undergoing his initial interview to join the study.
Led by Dr. Andrew Revell, director of the Ora M. DeJesus Center for Gerontology at UMass Dartmouth, the “Cognitive Status and Health Assessment Tools for Cross-Cultural Community Engagement” looks at how one’s mental abilities change with age, particularly among the Portuguese-American population.
“Little is known for how to access and detect cognitive impairment levels in ethnically-diverse populations,” stressed Dr. Revell. “Portuguese immigration has been dwindling over the last several years, and that has led to a significant aging of the Portuguese-American population.”
The study addresses three specific areas: remediation of cognitive decline; measurement of normal versus pathological changes with age; and analysis of health and cognition over time.
“The study meets a need that it’s here,” said Dr. Revell. “We can’t ignore that the Portuguese community is a large component of this region. We’re interested in identifying markers to aid efforts at disease prevention.”
So far, nearly 100 individuals have signed up for study, which recently received a $25,000 grant from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Office of the Provost. However, Dr. Revell is looking to attract a lot more participants.
“We want to engage the community at a high level,” said Dr. Revell. “The goal is to use preliminary data to try to get a grant from the federal government.”
The preliminary analyses have shown that Portuguese-Americans scored lower on global cognitive ability, higher on depression and lower on verbal fluency when compared to non-Portuguese. However, only near significant differences were present on memory recognition and executive functioning measures. Portuguese-Americans were also found to have lower, healthier pulse pressure.
“Replicating these findings in a larger, longitudinal study will be necessary in order to develop sufficient screening tools for the Portuguese-American population,” said Dr. Revell.
To help with the screenings and language barriers, Dr. Revell has recruited the help of Carla Vertentes, a Pre-Medical graduate who was born in the Azores, and Clarissa Iuchno, a Brazilian exchange nursing student at UMass Dartmouth.
“I love doing this,” said Vertentes. “Because of my beginnings, I connect with these people. It has opened my eyes to other ways of living in a Portuguese household. It’s definitely not a cookie cutter.”
Vertentes, who wants to become a doctor, said the study has been a great learning tool.
“I have been learning a lot about how the elderly behave, and hopefully I will be able to help them make the changes to take care of themselves,” she said.
Iuchno, who will remain in the area until December, said she hopes local Brazilians will show interest in joining the study.
“It’s a really interesting study,” she said.
Anyone who would like to participate in the study should contact 508-910-6504 or send an email to healthyaging@umassd.edu.

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