6 Things That Make a Great Alzheimer’s Study Site
Lynn Webster
Lynn Webster
Lynn R. Webster, MD Vice President, Scientific Affairs

According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than five million people -- including one out of 10 people age 65 and older -- have Alzheimer's disease. By 2050, that figure could reach 16 million. We need research into Alzheimer's treatment – and more importantly, prevention – because it is a disease that steals the soul.

But what makes a location ideal to study Alzheimer’s? Our Dr. Lynn Webster explores six things that make a great study site:

Life Expectancy. Living longer increases our chances of getting Alzheimer's. It also increases the number of potential subjects available to participate in studies. A location with a high senior population is ideal for Alzheimer’s research study site.

Altruistic Culture. As with many studies, the best participants are those who hope their willingness to be tested will provide scientists the information they need to improve the outlook of others. A great study location is one where people, by nature, seek scientifically based information to help protect the next generations from health problems in the future.

Strong Elderly Community. Hope of finding answers often drives people to research centers. But for people with mild cognitive impairment studies, this may not happen organically since people usually do not seek help until they experience more severe symptoms of cognitive impairment. So, it’s important for a site to be located in an area where seniors have a strong social network to help spread “word of mouth” awareness.

Location. If a site is too remote or inaccessible, it’s a strong deterrent for potential study participants and their families.

Respite. Although research is imperative, volunteering isn't all work. If a site can create a welcoming environment that feels less like a sterile “hospital” and more like a comfortable community, participants and their families will have a far more relaxed and engaged experience.

Specialized Approach. The strongest factor of success for a study site, of course, is the quality and stringency of the research itself. It’s imperative that a site have the experts and standards in place to generate meaningful results and quality care for its participants.

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We’re excited to announce the opening of our new clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah. So, how does it measure up to Dr. Webster’s list for Alzheimer’s study sites?

Life expectancy: Utah ranks 9th in the nation for Alzheimer’s deaths. What’s more, the average life expectancy in Utah is over 80, which is also among the highest in the nation.

Altruistic culture: Because of the high value they place on family, Utahans are particularly motivated to volunteer for medical studies even if there is no personal benefit.

Strong elderly community: In Utah, there are many church organizations, senior centers, and social groups that foster friendships between elderly people and provide continual opportunities for interaction. Because of this, one person who volunteers for a study might recruit friends to be assessed and screened for a study. There is a strong family culture, too. This creates a multiplier effect. One person can provide many other prospective participants.

Location: PRA is centrally located in Salt Lake County where there is a population of more than 1 million. The site, just a few minutes from downtown, is easy to access and is close to an interstate and public transit. Because of large populations nearby, transit time to the clinic isn’t too long for anyone in the valley. The PRA facility is located across the street from St. Mark’s Hospital which has a Senior Health Center, as well.

Respite: Utahans who participate in studies at PRA's new state-of-the art facility will be advancing the cause of science as they enjoy a mini-vacation. The site provides private rooms equipped with television, catered meals, and WiFi in addition to recreation rooms where participants enjoy a continued sense of community with other participants. The clinic strives to meet the individual needs of each research participant. For Alzheimer’s subjects, the rooms are redone with lamps, rugs, and cozy armchairs that make the environment feel less sterile. For longer inpatient stays, activities such as game nights, yoga, or crafts are set up for the participants.

Specialized approach: Research staff members are experienced in evaluating and treating elderly people with mental health disorders. The site routinely performs cognitive testing by certified neurocognitive psychologists. The PRA facility is one of the few sites in the country that can perform continuous CSF sampling up to 72 hours using an indwelling intrathecal catheter to determine if test drugs have entered the CSF. The catheters are placed under fluoroscopic guidance and a C-ARM by a board-certified anesthesiologist. With readily available medical attention and reliable supervision for those who need it, participants will be in good hands.

PRA Salt Lake County is uniquely well-positioned to be at the forefront of Alzheimer's research. The elderly population contributes so much to the greatness of Utah. We’re proud to be engaged with seniors who could one day help provide a treatment or cure for the devastating disease of Alzheimer’s.

Their souls depend on us.