HONOLULU (KHON2) – The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recently awarded a $15 million grant to a new project which will benefit Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island groups battling with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.

The project is called Natives engaged in Alzheimer’s Research (NEAR), which is led by Washington State University (WSU), and partnered with John A. Burns School of Medicine of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. NEAR will also connect 11 tribes, six academic and research institutions, seven urban Indian organizations, and five Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander community organizations.

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According to JABSOM, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, and Alaska Native communities are culturally and geographically diverse. However, all experience an unequal burden of conditions such as hypertension, type two diabetes and low socioeconomic status that make dementia more likely.

“We are returning to the traditions of our ancestors to provide the solutions needed to address the most pressing health concerns o four communities today,” said Dr. Joseph Keawe’aimoku Kaholokula, chair and professor of Native Hawaiian Health at JABSOM, as well as the project lead for this Hawai’i-based project.

The Hawai’i-based research project of NEAR will involve the adoption and testing of a lifestyle intervention grounded in the practice of hula previously found effective in improving blood pressure and reducing cardiovascular risk in Native Hawaiians.

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The NEAR project’s hopes this hula-based intervention will be adapted to address a broader range of vascular risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

Although little is known about how Alzheimer’s disease, JABSOM believes learning how these conditions can be prevented, detected, treated and learning what role genetic risk factors play is crucial.