It doesn’t respect fame, power or position. Alzheimer’s disease strikes across all segments of society. It afflicts an all-time high 560,000 Floridians who are 65 and older, the Alzheimer’s Association said this week.
Against that backdrop, two national organizations announced that the Building a Brain Healthy Community Initiative is coming to the Manatee-Sarasota area.
Described as a living laboratory for scientists to investigate brain health across the human lifespan, the initiative would be based at Lakewood Ranch’s CORE Campus — Collaboration Opportunities for Research and Exploration.
Florida, the third-most populous state, has the second-largest number of Alzheimer’s diagnoses in the country. By 2025, the number of Floridians with Alzheimer’s is expected to grow 28.6 percent to 720,000.
The new initiative would include a study of the risks and protective factors that contribute to brain health and performance, according to a press release. And it could position the greater Gulf Coast community at the epicenter of groundbreaking brain health research.
Program leaders chose Lakewood Ranch and the surrounding Manatee and Sarasota counties due to their multi-generational makeup, multi-faceted framework, high level of social engagement, vibrant business community and strong medical, wellness, educational, and arts and culture infrastructure.
An added bonus could be Roskamp Institute, which for a quarter century has been conducting studies in Manatee County to discover safe and effective drug therapies to treat diseases of the mind and to promote healthy aging.
Fiona Crawford, president and CEO of Roskamp Institute, said that Sharon Hillstrom of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. is facilitating a meeting between Roskamp and neuropsychologist Stephanie Peabody, who serves as executive director of ABHP. The meeting would explore possible areas of cooperation.
“This is something we welcome. It’s been part of our mission for 25 years. This is entirely consistent with what we do and is very exciting,” Crawford said. “This could feed into some of the things we are working on.”
Among the Roskamp focuses have been research on Alzheimer’s Disease, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and Gulf War illness.
Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, developer of Lakewood Ranch, announced in 2015 it would spend tens of millions of dollars during the next two decades to build CORE, a biotech business campus as a future site for national life sciences and health care companies.
CORE, a planned 305-acre biotech industrial district, is located between Rangeland Parkway and State Road 70 at Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. The campus is within walking distance of LECOM’s medical, pharmacology and dental schools on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
A global team of experts, including researchers, clinicians, innovators and entrepreneurs, would collaborate on the brain health initiative. Over time, they expect to discover positive and negative contributions to brain health and performance across the lifespan at the biological, personal, and social/community levels, the press release said.
From healthcare to technology and business to urban planning, the study is designed to uncover the value of brain health on all aspects of life.
“Brain health is a topic of growing scientific focus,” Peabody said in the press release. “We feel Lakewood Ranch will serve as the perfect environment for our group to uncover essential elements of brain health and enhancement, as well as cognitive maintenance across a person’s life.”
Community planning takes into account a variety of factors, so why not brain health, Kirk Boylston, president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial, said in the press release.
“Our participation reflects our commitment to building an environment that promotes not just a healthy lifestyle, but a brain healthy lifestyle,” Boylston said.
“I envision a future in which a brain health checkup is as central to an annual physical as a blood pressure assessment, where our schools are built with brain health in mind, and Lakewood Ranch grocery stores present brain healthy foods alongside heart-healthy and gluten-free options.”
The already-completed Phase I of the brain health initiative includes a collection of initial survey information, identifying community priorities related to brain health as well as the creation of the main research factors for the study.
Phase II will build the infrastructure necessary to support a culture that focuses on increasing brain health outcomes and a pilot study designed to collect baseline data of Lakewood Ranch residents. Data collected during Phase II will be used during Phase III, the focus of which will be to include testing unique brain health innovations and following participants for decades.
“Our initial survey identified positive and negative brain health factors that are part of daily life for Lakewood Ranch residents,” said Shelley Carson, a Harvard University psychologist and key architect of Building a Brain Healthy Community Initiative.
“From neighborhood cleanliness and family-oriented focus to stress overload and elderly cognitive decline, brain health is so ingrained in our existence that it’s hard to imagine what wouldn’t be impacted by the results of our study,” Carson said.
To support this long-term study, the ABHP and MGH team formed the Lakewood Ranch Brain Health Coalition comprising local civic, business and youth leaders. Together, they recently launched a $1.6 million community fundraising campaign to support the next two phases of this initiative.
The initiative was inspired by the ongoing Framingham Heart Study. Commissioned in 1948 by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Boston University, the study is widely credited with uncovering the effects of smoking on the heart, benefits of aspirin and a healthy diet, and the relationships between high cholesterol and heart attacks.
Alzheimer’s Disease has been a growing concern as the Baby Boomer generation moves into retirement. Some of the earliest Baby Boomers took part in the Project Talent study of the early 1960s, which tested more than 400,000 students across the United States. Researchers are now circling back with Project Talent participants, looking for clues in the Alzheimer’s puzzle.
For more information on the Building a Brain Healthy Community initiative or to support project funding visit brainhealthylwr.com.
For more information on Roskamp Institute, visit roskampinstitute.org/.