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Nurse Scientist Adriana Perez, Ph.D., Addresses Inequities in Alzheimer’s Disease Research

Nurse Scientist Adriana Perez, Ph.D., Addresses Inequities in Alzheimer’s Disease Research
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October 12, 2021
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"Hispanic Heritage Month is the perfect time to thank and honor Latino communities who have helped inform and inspire my research! They make me proud to be a Latina working to address inequities in Alzheimer's disease and all other dementia." — Adriana Perez, Ph.D.
 

Dr. Perez, how has your culture influenced your career path?

As a Latina, I value family, not only those that are related to me, but also people I have made my family: my friends and my community. And while there is so much diversity even within our culture, we are bound by our language, similar immigrant experiences, and by a deep sense of faith. 

As a community, Latinos honor older adults, as well as those who have come before us who have passed on. I have learned to appreciate my culture even more, and older Latinos in my research and practice inspire me every day. Like most Latinos, I want to give back to my community, which has led me to nursing and research. Through my science and practice, I know I am contributing.
 

Tell us how mild cognitive impairment (MCI) became your professional focus.

My first clinical and research experiences were promoting heart health in older Latinos. I learned early on that a healthy heart is necessary for a healthy brain. 

Latinos experience MCI symptoms at a younger age compared to their white counterparts, largely due to chronic structural barriers that limit their access to health care, including important memory screenings. Often MCI progresses to Alzheimer's disease, ultimately impacting a patient's family and community. 

While I see the strength and resilience of family caregivers for patients with Alzheimer's, I know there is more that we can do, especially by making cognitive health research more inclusive of Latinos and other historically excluded populations. It has been devastating to see patients be disproportionately affected by cognitive health disparities. 

This is my personal connection to Alzheimer's disease: I carry the stories of patients and research participants in my heart and mind. And they keep me going.
 

Tell us about your involvement with the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN).

Like most members, I joined NAHN as a student and feel like a lifetime member! I have served on the national board, including the public policy committee, and also as president of the Phoenix, AZ chapter. I have also implemented several grants in collaboration with many NAHN local chapter leaders. One of the most recent grants was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, which focused on teaching Latino families about health insurance coverage and connecting them to resources for access to health care. 

Now I’m excited to work on similar efforts to accelerate the number of Latinos who participate in Alzheimer's clinical trials. Currently less than 5 percent of Alzheimer's disease clinical trials include Latinos. The national partnership between the NAHN and the Alzheimer's Association can change this! Both organizations have chapters at the local and state level and are committed to advancing health equity for Latinos and other marginalized communities who experience a disproportionate burden of dementia. 
 

Tell us about your work at the University of Pennsylvania which promotes physical activity in the Hispanic community.

I’m currently leading a 4-year study funded by the National Institute on Aging. This study is in collaboration with an outstanding team of interdisciplinary senior researchers and in partnership with our community advisory board, made up of local Latina leaders with a deep history of serving older Latinos in Philadelphia. 
 
"Tiempo Juntos por Nuestra Salud” (Time Together for Our Health) is a bilingual, community-driven intervention, guided by the individual motivation of each participant, with support from their social network and neighborhood resources. Physical activity is focused on the healthy heart and brain connection, plus it is something participants can do together with friends and family: con Amigos y Familia.

Physical activity can be a powerful tool for reducing chronic disease risk factors, including cognitive decline. Designing interventions that center the needs of older Latinos, in partnership with community organizations and leaders, is necessary to advance cognitive health equity, and is something I’m very proud to play a part in, in hopes that it will lead to improved futures for all Hispanic families.
 
When many Latino participants join my studies, they tell me: "I hope that we discover a cure for Alzheimer's disease," and I add, "Yes, a cure that everyone, no matter who they are, how much money they have, where they live, or what country they immigrated from, can benefit from."

About: Assistant professor of nursing Adriana Perez, Ph.D., ANP-BC, FAAN is a longtime member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. She received her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. at Arizona State University and joined the UPenn nursing faculty in 2015. She says: “Thank you! ¡Gracias!” — to all the caregivers and people affected by Alzheimer's disease, and the passionate advocates, community partners, fellow scientists, nurses and clinicians. It is an honor to learn from you and to share this journey with you.” Learn more about Dr. Perez.

Related articles:
National Association of Hispanic Nurses
Hispanic Americans and Alzheimer’s

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