Life Course Development Project announces two new studies for 2023

May 15, 2023

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — The Life Course Development Program at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research is launching two new studies examining how biomarkers and social factors work together to influence health outcomes. The Detroit Aging and Memory Project (D-AMP) and the Social Relations Study (SRS) will kick off later this year, collecting and studying data from different audiences.

D-AMP will focus on adults aged 65 and over, recruiting a new representative sample of respondents from the metro Detroit area while also re-establishing contact with a group from a previous study.

“We’re hoping to include people who trace their ancestry to Middle Eastern, North African, or Arab countries, what we’d call Middle Eastern and North African Americans, or MENA for short,” said Kristine Ajrouch, adjunct research professor at ISR’s Survey Research Center. “We’re also going to be going back to a sample of Blacks and Whites aged 65 and older, who are part of the longitudinal social relations study that was first carried out in 1992. This would be their fourth or fifth contact to participate in research that we’re doing.” 

The study will attempt to understand the role that social factors play in health outcomes, including factors like immigrant status, lifestyle behaviors, and even the language they use. It will also collect a battery of neuropsychological assessments in addition to collecting saliva for a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. 

SRS, meanwhile, will focus on a similar population in the Detroit area, exploring the association between social relationships and health among Blacks and Whites. This study began in 1982.. This association is of particular interest to Toni Antonucci, director of the Life Course Development Program, especially given the opportunity these studies present to provide an in-depth exploration of the unique experience of people in the Detroit area. People from Detroit have experienced economic and health challenges since this study first began. The new data will permit updating and modernizing data on people from Detroit, allowing researchers to better understand how they have managed the challenges they have faced in recent years.

“People didn’t really think much of social relations as a scientific area of study, and I think that the Life Course Development Program has done a lot to contribute to a different way of thinking about social relations,” said Antonucci. “It’s not just, you know, ‘do you love your wife?’ but also the specifics about it. What are the characteristics about social relations that are most important? And, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has really shown us how social contact and loneliness are important to mental and physical health.”

These studies will also offer an expanded understanding of the MENA population in the Detroit area, which has historically been underrepresented, even invisible, in studies of this nature. 

“Our findings have shown over the past several decades that the MENA population is indeed unique from Whites even though they’re categorized as White,” said Ajrouch. “The knowledge that we’re gaining from including MENA Americans in research projects is advancing science in important ways. By being able to show where disparities exist, and what’s driving the disparities, we’re hoping to also show that protective factors may be uncovered by looking at a group that hasn’t received a lot of attention.”

Ajrouch and Antonucci hope that by announcing the studies well in advance, they may be able to have an easier time establishing a representative sample. 

Interviewers from the University of Michigan will begin to make contact with potential participants later this year, and further conversations will also take place in person. Ajrouch and Antonucci hope that by announcing the studies well in advance, more people may be aware — and willing to participate.

“It’s important for people to agree to be part of our sample if contacted,” said Antonucci. “This study depends on a random representative sample, which allows us to generalize the results to a larger population, but it also means that people can’t just volunteer. People agreeing to participate if and when we call is a huge help to us and the project goals. Ultimately, we would like to use the data we gather to find ways to help and support our communities.”

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