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Rutgers University–Newark neuroscientist Mark Gluck has spent decades studying disorders that affect memory, learning, and decision-making.
As founder of RU-N’s African-American Brain Health Initiative (AABHI), a long-term research project funded by RU-N, the National Science Foundation, and other federal and state agencies, he has been working tirelessly to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia in older African Americans, who contract the disease at twice the rate of the broader population.
Given RU-N’s role as an anchor institution in Newark, it’s no surprise that Gluck chose to forge community partnerships with churches, nonprofits, healthcare organizations and others to focus his research on the city’s aging black population.
On Thursday, AABHI will be joined by more than 200 Newark seniors, along with dozens of community partners, as it hosts its first Food and Brain Health Conference at RU-N’s Paul Robeson Campus Center (9 a.m.–1 p.m).
“In the past, we’ve focused on helping people understand Alzheimer’s and the importance of exercise as a preventative measure,” says Gluck, a professor at RU-N's Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience (CMBN). “But surveys told us that most people don’t know about the role of food and diet in preventing the disease. So, we wanted to start addressing that.”
The event will include a healthy breakfast followed by several talks given by representatives of the American Heart Association and AABHI, including Gluck, who will cover how food directly affects brain functioning, as well as the toxic effects of sugar.
According to Gluck, sugar activates same brain circuits that researchers see in addiction. He’ll speak on the dangers of added (not natural) sugars, which food companies add artificially to create addiction to their products.
“Most media reports link sugar to obesity, but few link it to brain health and cognition,” he says. “This is a major oversight that needs to be talked about.”
The Food and Brain Health Conference will also focus on recruiting seniors for AABHI’s research initiatives. And there will be a Brain and Heart-Healthy Soul Food Cooking class given by Peter Fischbach, Director of Culinary Development for Gourmet Dining at RU-N.
The event is being produced and co-sponsored by RU-N’s Office of University-Community Partnerships (OUCP), led by Assistant Chancellor Diane Hill, who works with Gluck as co-director of AABHI.
AABHI’s multifaceted research efforts are already making a big impact on local seniors.
In February, the group won a five-year $1-million grant from the New Jersey Department of Health—obtained through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—to teach seniors how to protect their brains through exercise.
With help from community and church organizations in Greater Newark, Gluck and his team have enlisted several hundred African Americans 55 and older for ongoing physical- and mental-health assessments during a 20-week program of dance-based exercise and lifestyle education. The team will use brain-imaging to study the effects of these on cognition and memory, and hope to demonstrate empirically that exercise improves these functions and lowers seniors’ risk for Alzheimer’s.
AABHI also recently won a $582,000 award from the National Institute of Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, to do a lifetime longitudinal study involving several hundred seniors age 65 and over from the Greater Newark area.
Gluck’s team will collaborate with the Department of Neurology at Rutgers Biomedical Health Sciences (RBHS) and follow up with participants every two years to study how variations in lifestyle, habits and health affect brain function, and how these factors affect participants’ future chances of contracting Alzheimer’s.
In addition to its research initiatives, AABHI holds many community events, including regular Lunch & Learn gatherings twice per month at Newark area churches, senior centers and public housing complexes.
Thursday’s Food and Brain Health Conference, which is part of this larger ongoing effort, will be followed up by “Jazz Your Brain” and “Men’s Brain Health Classic Car Show” events in April.
“We have a lot on tap. Hopefully people will have a good time at these events, learn things, and participate in RU-N research initiatives on brain health,” he says.
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For more information on the Food and Brain Health Conference, visit here.
For more information on the African American Brain Health Initiative, visit here.