Population Health Alzheimer’s Study Launches

December 6, 2019
MHE Staff
MHE Staff

First-ever wholly digital population health study examining dementia risks using data from multiple wearable technologies and combine with neuropsychology tests.

Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and Savonix, digital cognitive assessment company located in San Francisco, have announced the Alzheimer’s Disease Discovery Study (ASSIST) Study, a three-year study of brain health and related factors.

The ASSIST Study will digitally collect cognitive data, health history and lifestyle tracking data from 400,000 individuals with an emphasis on diversity. It is the first-ever wholly digital population health study that captures data from multiple wearable technologies together with sensitive neuropsychology tests to examine how risks for dementia cluster to produce diseases like Alzheimer’s. 

“Where most studies related to Alzheimer’s and dementia focus on small populations of a few thousand, the ASSIST Study will use the Savonix mobile platform to gather data from hundreds of thousands of diverse participants,” says Mylea Charvat, PhD, CEO and founder, Savonix.

Related: Wearables Help Detect Dementia

Although there have been hundreds of studies focused on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, most of this research has examined small groups of similar people, according to Charvat.

“But this narrow approach-cherry-picking a small group here and a dementia risk factor there-doesn’t reflect the way that dementia affects people from every walk of life. When we focus on one type of person or one potential risk factor at a time, we fail to capture the way a person’s genes, choices, and experiences all interact to affect their brain health.

According to Charvat, researchers have never attempted a brain health study as big as the ASSIST Study before.

“By examining a larger and more diverse population than any study before it, the ASSIST Study will identify how a wide range of factors influence our risk of developing dementia,” she says. “Dementia research has a diversity problem, too. Right now, most of our knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia comes from studies where most, if not all, the participants identify as non-Hispanic white. Public health experts agree we need studies that represent the diverse U.S. population before we can better understand, diagnose, and treat dementia.”

The information collected in the ASSIST Study can help us develop new therapies and drugs that target memory loss and problems with thinking, according to Charvat. “The results from the study may even help us find a cure for Alzheimer’s,” she says.

To participate in the ASSIST Study, participants need to review and sign a consent form and then fill out a short questionnaire about their current and past health conditions. After consent is provided and the questionnaire is completed, participants will register to receive the test link. Then, the Savonix mobile app will need to be downloaded to participants’ Apple or Android device.

“If you’re using an iPhone with the Health app, the Savonix mobile app will ask you to share your health app data, including body measurements and health habits such as exercise, sleep, and nutrition,” Charvat says. “If you’re using an iPad or Android device, you’ll skip this step and proceed directly to the test.”

The test for the ASSIST Study takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. Participants need to ensure that they have uninterrupted time in a quiet space before beginning.

Once Boston University researchers organize the study data and analyze it, participants will be sent a summary of the overall findings. Participants will also get a link to take the test again.

“When you take the test a second time, you can receive a personalized report that will compare your individual results to those of other study participants,” Charvat says. “You’ll also have the option to repeat the test in the future and see how your cognitive abilities change over time.”

The goal of the ASSIST Study is to help scientists better understand how the brain functions at all stages of life, so you can participate regardless of whether you have Alzheimer’s disease or any other current health issues, Charvat says.

“If you meet the basic criteria listed above, you can provide data that will help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” she says. 

“Each year, government agencies and private donors spend billions of dollars to fund research into Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” Charvat says. “But for all that effort, no one has done a large study to examine the complex fabric of factors that affect brain health across diverse groups of people. The information collected in the ASSIST Study can help us develop new therapies and drugs that target memory loss and problems with thinking. The results from the study may even help us find a cure for Alzheimer’s.”