Beach Cities Health District Brain health study approved by board
by David Mendez
The Beach Cities Health District will partner with nationally-recognized neurology experts for a three-year study to better understand the link between healthy lifestyle changes, resulting from the Health District’s Blue Zones Project, and brain health in older adults.
An agreement approved by the BCHD Board of Directors last week would pay $105,000 annually to develop and sponsor a three-year clinical trial, potentially proving that BCHD preventative health initiatives have positively affected Beach Cities residents.
“We’ll have numbers showing that we’re actually doing what we think we’re doing: Making a difference in terms of brain health for the community by our programs,” said BCHD Board Member Vanessa Poster. “We focus on evidence [for our programs] and this gives us evidence for our community and where we’re going.”
The partnership, called the Healthy Minds Initiative, was conceived in 2016 after BCHD staff met with Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, neurologists specializing in brain health and Alzheimer’s Disease prevention at Loma Linda University Medical Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Hospital. The two have made media rounds for their book, “The Alzheimer’s Solution,” which suggests that a healthy lifestyle — which includes factors such as nutrition, exercise, and stress — may make the greatest impact on preventing degenerative brain disease.
The Blue Zones Project applies lifestyle lessons learned at global longevity hotspots toward communities such as the Beach Cities. After more than six years of progress, the Beach Cities were named a Blue Zones Community. Obesity rates among school-age children have dramatically fallen, smoking rates have dropped, and even stress levels have reduced, according to reporting from a locally-targeted Gallup-Healthways poll.
The Beach Cities “perfected the model,” said Blue Zones Project founder Dan Buettner in 2016. “Not only is it a success story, but it’s the R&D lab for finding out what really works.”
The Healthy Minds Initiative would attempt to prove that the project has been making lasting changes to brain health.
The study would examine 1,700 Beach Cities adults aged 65 and older, observing the effects of active and passive lifestyle changes. BCHD staff would recruit and screen participants while the Sherzai and Loma Linda University Health staff would provide oversight and analyze the data. Community lectures and presentations are included in the agreement approved by the BCHD board.
The study’s approval coincides with the Health District’s planned development of its Healthy Living Campus, which will include up to 400 independent- and assisted-living senior residential units.
“This would follow through on things we’ve found to be effective,” said BHCD board member Jane Diehl. “The study lasts three years, and by the time we build [the Healthy Living Campus] we could have 400 new people to provide with the best programs, or to give them the best option.”