The decades-long Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts, which started in 1948 and is still going, paved the way for a lot of what we know about heart health.
A new study in Florida hopes to do the same thing for the brain.
Lakewood Ranch – a 31,000-acre master-planned community that is home to more than 36,000 residents in southeastern Manatee County and northeastern Sarasota County – was selected by the Academy for Brain Health and Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, to house the study.
Stephanie Peabody, a neuropsychologist and executive director of the Building a Brain Healthy Community Initiative, said brain health affects everyone.
“One in three individuals across the lifespan will have a diagnosis of some sort of neurological illness and that leaves the other two who may not have a diagnosis,” Peabody said. “They really become caregivers.”
Over time, researchers expect to discover both positive and negative contributions to brain health and performance across a person's lifespan at the biological, personal, and social/community levels.
From healthcare to technology and business to urban planning, the researchers say the study will “uncover the value of brain health on every aspect of life.”
Lakewood Ranch was chosen for “multi-generational makeup, multi-faceted framework, high level of social engagement, vibrant business community, and strong medical, wellness, educational, and arts and culture infrastructure.”
“Community planning takes into account a variety of factors, so why not brain health? Our participation reflects our commitment to building an environment that promotes not just a healthy lifestyle, but a brain healthy lifestyle,” said Kirk Boylston, president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial, in a news release.
“I envision a future in which a brain health checkup is as central to an annual physical as a blood pressure assessment, where our schools are built with brain health in mind, and Lakewood Ranch grocery stores present brain healthy foods alongside heart-healthy and gluten-free options.”
The first of three phases has already been completed, which included a survey of Lakewood Ranch residents.
The second phase “will build the community’s and study’s infrastructure necessary to support a culture that focuses on increasing brain health outcomes” and include a pilot study designed to collect baseline data of the residents.
That data will be used during the third phase while following participants for decades, some from infancy well into adulthood. Participants should be identified by May 2020.
The researchers are currently fundraising $1.6 million to make the research a reality.
Peabody said that while about 3,600 people will be followed – 10 percent of Lakewood Ranch’s population – it’s not just about them.
"It's really about our ability, by planting the flag in the ground, to create the Gulf Coast region as the go-to place related to brain health."
The research will later include the creation of a physical “Brain Health Innovation Lab” in Lakewood Ranch.