Healthy Brain Aging in Colorado

Thanks to a special event hosted by Project Bridge, researchers from the CSAND Lab were recently able to present current work and discuss research with policymakers at the Colorado State Capital. The chance to speak in front of legislators was a special opportunity to convey the importance of research, scientific funding, and restrictions on certain types of research. Here are some highlights from our discussion with policymakers and community members:

As the U.S. population ages, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is becoming increasingly common. We know that early access to specialized care and accurate diagnosis is key because it improves treatment, provides access to new disease-modifying medications, saves millions in Colorado healthcare expenses, and most importantly, improves patient and caregiver quality of life. Despite this, there are too few dementia specialists available and dementia is often identified too late. The CSAND Lab is striving to address this problem through increased healthcare accessibility, community engagement, and the production of advanced diagnostic tools.

The CSAND Lab aims to improve healthcare accessibility with the development of the Computer Health Record Information System (CHRIS). CHRIS is an online system that automatically delivers patient and caregiver questionnaires through a secure digital survey platform. Providers receive the survey results before their patients’ regular clinic visits and can incorporate the results into their clinical care. The system is also designed to provide tailored recommendations directly to the patient and their caregiver. For example, if a caregiver notices increased agitation in the patient, CHRIS will be able to provide further resources on managing agitation in dementia. Ultimately, we will work with a diverse sample of Colorado primary care providers to implement CHRIS into clinical standard of care.

In conjunction with our work towards clinical care, the CSAND Lab is dedicated to creating advanced diagnostic tools to aid in the accurate and early detection of AD and other forms of dementia. Our approach aims to use conversational speech as a marker for detecting dementia. We are actively developing algorithms that analyze both linguistic (“what we say,” e.g. vocabulary, word count, etc.) and paralinguistic (“how we say,” e.g. pitch of voice, etc.) features of speech that are known to change in dementia. These algorithms will be tested for efficacy and ultimately made available for providers and researchers.

To better serve the needs of our communities, improve health, and create long-lasting systemic change, the CSAND Lab is also directly engaging with community members. The unique contexts and needs of each community are considered when designing our systems and research protocols. For example, the CU Alzheimer’s and Cognition Center collaborates with the African American Alzheimer’s Advisory Council (4AC) to help dispel the stigma of AD and dementia, and increase awareness for caregivers in Colorado’s African American community through education and outreach. Members of the 4AC provide feedback and suggestions to make studies and tools at the CSAND Lab more equitable for all.

We hope that our efforts in the CSAND Lab improve access to advanced dementia care in Colorado, support healthy aging in diverse communities across the state, save millions in associated healthcare costs, and enhance patient and caregiver quality of life.