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UCLA gets $11 million to study how to reduce stroke in low-income communities of color

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UCLA has received an $11-million grant it will use to study how low-income communities of color can reduce their stroke rates. One study it plans to conduct will send community health workers into patients' homes, so they can – among other things – teach patients how to take their own blood pressure.

UCLA researchers plan to use an $11 million federal grant to fund three studies that will look at how low-income communities of color can reduce disparately high rates of stroke among their ranks.

The money will go to the university's Los Angeles Stroke Prevention/Intervention Research Program in Health Disparities, a research center that's partnered with health care systems, organizations and city agencies throughout Los Angeles County.

The funding comes from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, one of the 27 institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr. Barbara Vickrey, the director of the Los Angeles Stroke Prevention/Intervention Research Program in Health Disparities, noted that every year the country sees nearly 800,000 strokes, which are the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S.

"We've got a big problem," she said. "We know there are things we can treat to reduce the risk."

Those things include high blood pressurehigh cholesterol and lifestyle factors that can contribute to high stroke incidence - including a lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet and smoking.

"We know there's a problem," said Vickrey. "We've measured how bad it is but we need interventions that are going to go in and really eliminate those disparities, and we know those interventions have to be community-based."

Vickrey said there are "huge disparities" in stroke occurrence and the treatment of stroke risk factors based on racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. She also said folks who are poor or have less education are more likely to have strokes – some of them deadly – and lack control over the risk factors that lead to stroke.

The five-year, $11-million grant from the NIH will fund three studies, said Vickrey:

  • One will focus on people who have already had one stroke, which puts those people at high risk of having another one. This study will look at how the risk of recurrent stroke is lowered by on-the-ground community health workers who make home visits to teach participants how to do things like measure their own blood pressure, read food labels, increase their physical activity and take their medications properly. "That's really key," said Vickrey. "To be in the home, be able to speak folks' own language, to know that community well, to work on all those kinds of changes you need to prevent another stroke."
  • Another trial will promote walking within low-income senior centers, and provide residents with brain health education. Researchers will assess the impact of this program, said Vickrey, and "if this is effective in promoting walking, then it can be rolled out to other senior centers across the U.S."
  • The third study will be an analysis of several decades' worth of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, with the goal of identifying new risk factors for stroke.

Vickrey emphasized the importance of these communities' involvement in every step of these projects – from helping to carry out the trials to the evaluation of data.

"The big message, again, is these interventions have to be community-based to be effective," she said. "If they are effective, we want to be poised to disseminate them broadly and maintain them."

Vickrey added that in terms of stroke risk factors, South Los Angeles – along with other communities where there's a heavy reliance on safety-net care – tends to fare worse. The most recent data available from the L.A. County Department of Public Health confirms that.

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