Dr. Mirella Diaz-Santos: UCLA Health researcher says brain health equity requires ‘paradigm shift’ in research practices

While working as an investigator in a biomarkers-in-healthy-aging study prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA Health assistant professor Mirella Díaz-Santos, PhD had a question burning in her mind. 

Mirella Diaz-Santos, PhD, speaks with a visitor at the Alzheimer’s Los Angeles "Making Memories Festival" at Los Angeles State Historic Park.

The study appeared to have all the right pieces meant to engage and recruit a diverse group of participants from Latino communities – a population that research has shown have historically been omitted from such studies.

In this case, participants in the study received a stipend for their time; researchers had made efforts to recruit community members; and residents had responded despite the all-day time commitment.

But a key question remained:

“My question was, ‘Why was the research protocol only in English?’” Dr. Díaz-Santos said. 

As the founder and director of the Equity for Latinx-Hispanic Healthy Aging Lab at the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Care at UCLA, Díaz-Santos said the incident was one example of a larger issue in her field that her lab is working to solve.

While Díaz-Santos said there have been earnest efforts to increase diversity of participants in brain health research in recent years, critical reviews have shown the evidence in cognitive science has largely been limited to white, economically advantaged populations who are highly educated. Díaz-Santos said findings from these studies are then applied across cultures without considering or measuring how non-cognitive factors such as history, experience, diet, socioeconomic status and values can influence brain health. 

The result is an incomplete understanding of cognitive health across communities, calling into question the validity and generalizability of the interpretations of these studies, Díaz-Santos said.

Read more of this article from UCLA Health.