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Dr. Lisa Barnes
with Jane Rogers

Racial diversity in research critical for identifying risks and preventation of Alzheimer’s disease.

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In this podcast interview, Dr. Lisa Barnes discusses her work in cognitive neuropsychology and efforts to diversify Alzheimer’s disease research by including Black Americans. With a background from the University of Michigan and UC Davis, Dr. Barnes joined Rush Medical College in 1999 and has been leading the Minority Aging Research Study since 2004, focusing on brain health within the Black community.

Dr. Barnes initiated the Minority Aging Research Study to address the underrepresentation of Black individuals in dementia research, overcoming trust barriers rooted in historical mistreatment and increasing awareness about Alzheimer’s in the Black community. The study includes over 800 participants and promotes understanding of Alzheimer’s by offering community-based education and recruitment, advocating for brain donation, and examining the link between discrimination and cognitive health. Dr. Barnes highlights the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease, noting that social determinants play a significant role in brain health and discussing genetic findings that challenge assumptions about the disease’s prevalence in Black Americans. Although some research suggests that there may be twice the incidence of Alzheimers in Black communities, Dr. Barnes notes that when studies follow people over time, there doesn’t appear to be any faster rate of decline in Black people than White people. You would expect to see a faster rate of decline if there’s more Alzheimer’s. “People thought Alzheimer’s disease is a White person’s disease, or they thought we’re supposed to lose our memory when we get older. There’s nothing you can do about it. I think we have to debunk some of those myths,” she says.

“I think we’re going to have to really change society at a global level to start to see changes in Alzheimer’s because it’s not just individual treatment or what you get in school. It’s your living environment. It’s your access to healthy foods. It’s how you’re able to get out and be physically active, and there are all these barriers to people being able to do that safely, based on how society has marginalized certain communities, right? I think we’re going to have to change a lot about society before we can really start to see a decline in the disease, if it really is caused by these social determinants, which a lot of data suggests that it is.”
Dr. Lisa Barnes

About Dr. Lisa Barnes

Lisa L. Barnes, PhD is the Alla V. and Solomon Jesmer Professor of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine and a cognitive neuropsychologist within the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center. She is also the Associate Director of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan in biopsychology and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in cognitive neuroscience at the University of California, Davis. She has been a faculty member at Rush Medical College since 1999. Dr. Barnes has received many NIH grants and has published over 300 manuscripts. Her research interests include disparities in chronic diseases of aging, cognitive decline, and risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. She is the Principal Investigator of the Minority Aging Research Study (MARS), which has been funded by NIA since 2004, and the Clinical Core Leader for the Rush African American Clinical Core. She advocates for recruitment of under-represented groups into clinical studies and has received many awards and fellowships.


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