New center focuses on equity in dementia care

Naoko Muramatsu (left) and Tanvi Bhatt (right)
Photo: Jenny Fontaine

A new federally funded center co-led by faculty in AHS and the School of Public Health will focus on care for people with dementia, as well as their care providers, while supporting the research of underrepresented faculty.

The Center for Health Equity in Cognitive Aging, funded by a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Aging, is the newest of 18 Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research across the U.S. and the first in a Midwestern urban area.

“This network means that we can provide opportunities not just within UIC, but also link scientists to the outside world so they have access to leaders in the field from all over the nation,” said Tanvi Bhatt, professor of PT and RS. Bhatt is co-director with Naoko Muramatsu in the School of Public Health.

“This center’s strength lies in amalgamating behavioral health promotion and population-science approaches for advancing dementia care and caregiving research,” Bhatt said.

The center, based in the Institute for Health Research and Policy, will mentor underrepresented faculty and build a team-based research community that focuses on the social, environmental and behavioral factors leading to inequities in Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

The center’s Scientist Program accepted three pilot projects in its first round for funding of up to $50,000, with a second call for applications in January.

Dalmina Arias, OT clinical assistant professor, will use her pilot funding to expand a primary care-based program developed by OT associate professor Mansha Mirza. The program works to prevent hospitalization for older adults with chronic health conditions by connecting them to occupational therapists who assess their home environment, needs and goals.

Arias will adapt the program for Spanish-speaking patients and families, including not only language by cultural differences around food, family caregiving and use of health care resources.

The center’s other first-round grants were awarded to Kelechi Ibe-Lamberts and Jennifer Kwok in the School of Public Health.

“I can’t emphasize enough how valuable it is, having these connections and this opportunity so early in our careers,” Arias said.

“For assistant professors wanting to pursue scholarship, there are so many barriers, and without proper mentorship they cannot launch themselves into research careers,” Bhatt said. “We want to build an environment of shared mentoring and advancing science in this field.”

This article has been edited for length and clarity by Sonya Booth.