HARLINGEN — About two dozen local people are helping researchers find a way to prevent dementia.
The University of Texas Health Science Center is looking for more people to help them find answers to this question.
The Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen is one of about 30 sites in the country where the study is being conducted, Dr. Sara Espinoza, the local principal investigator, said.
The study is called Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly. The study’s principal investigator is Dr. Richard Grimm, medical director of the Berman Center for Outcomes and Clinical Research in Minneapolis.
“We know that aspirin prevents heart disease and stroke in middle-aged people,” said Espinoza, an associate professor of medicine at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. “There is some evidence that aspirin may prevent dementia or cognitive impairment.”
Past studies suggest that aspirin, as an anti-inflammatory drug, could be a protective for dementia, she said.
The study includes persons 65 and older who are in good health. Some will be given aspirin; others will take a placebo. They will then be monitored annually for five years. Harlingen residents participating in the study are tested and examined at the RAHC’s Clinical Research Unit.
Espinoza said the study has far-reaching effects because conditions such as dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, could be caused by inflammation.
Diabetes is considered an inflammatory condition, and that can lead to disability. Therefore, the study is also being conducted to see if aspirin can reduce the possibility of people becoming disabled to the point where they are unable to care for themselves.
The study is also being conducted at sites in Australia, begun about two years ago. Espinoza said the study’s operators intend to enroll people in the program until December, but the deadline could be extended.
The South Texas site, which includes the RAHC as an extension of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, has about 219 subjects enrolled, Espinoza said, with 25 to 30 enrolled in Harlingen.
She would like to see more local residents enrolled in the program.
“We can enroll as many who want to be enrolled,” she said. “We have no limit on how many are enrolled.”
Mary Helen Gonzales signed up to participate as soon as she celebrated her 65th birthday last June.
Gonzales and her husband Juan are both participating in the aspirin study.
She explained that she is monitored at the RAHC, where she’s given regular memory tests.
“They are so friendly there,” she said. “I really like it. I enjoy the people there. It really is fun. And I like the challenge that they give you, the memory tests.”
Her husband Juan, 68, has a personal interest in the study.
“I had a sister that got dementia when she was about 53 or 54 years old, and right now she can’t recognize anybody,” he said. “I decided I’d better get into that study, too, which was very interesting.”
The tests, he said, determine how well his mind is working.
“They give you figures and you have to memorize them, write them down as you’re looking at them, see if they match,” he said. “They ask you about how many words you can come up with for a certain letter.”
Travis M. Whitehead writes for the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen.
>> Persons interested in participating in the study can call 1 (877) 524-3265 or visit www.ASPREE.org.