How Boston University and Savonix Are Teaming Up to Fight Dementia

Each year, government agencies and private donors spend billions of dollars to fund research into Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 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.

Now, Boston University and the cognitive assessment app company Savonix are working together to change that fact with a groundbreaking study.

Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and Savonix have announced the ASSIST Study, a three-year study of brain health and related factors. 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.

“Much of the science in [the area of dementia] focuses on small groups,” says BUSPH Dean Sandro Galea, “but [the ASSIST Study] is looking at the whole population, and frankly, that’s where the burden of disease is.”

Dementia Doesn’t Discriminate, and Neither Should Dementia Research

Dementia is any disease that impairs a person’s brain function and changes memory or thinking skills. The most common cause of age-related dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Right now, 5.8 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s dementia, and another person develops Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds.

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. 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.

“Genetics matters [when studying brain health] just as much as whether I smoke or drink matters, just as much as where I live and the food I eat matter,” notes Galea. “All of these pieces matter, and that’s what a population health study [like the ASSIST Study] does.”

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.

Why the ASSIST Study Is Different

Researchers have never attempted a brain health study as big as the ASSIST Study before. The goal for the three-year study is to gather data from at least 400,000 individuals, with an emphasis on diversity. 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.

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.

Can I Contribute to This Groundbreaking Dementia Research?

Yes! We need data from people of all ages, races, genders, backgrounds, and lifestyles to complete the ASSIST Study. If you’re at least 22 years old and a resident of the United States, you can help. You only need to meet one other requirement to participate:

  • You must have an Apple iPhone® 5s or later with iOS version 11.0 or later, and you must use the Health app to track your health information

—OR—

  • You must have an Apple iPad® with iOS version 11.0 or later or an Android™ device, such as a tablet or phone, running version 6 or later

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

What Can I Expect When I Participate in the ASSIST Study?

To participate in the ASSIST Study, you’ll need to review and sign a consent form and then fill out a short questionnaire about your current and past health conditions.

After you provide consent and fill out the questionnaire, you’ll register to receive the test link. Then, you’ll need to download the Savonix mobile app to your 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. 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 15–20 minutes to complete. Make sure you have uninterrupted time in a quiet space before you begin. The test itself will seem like a series of puzzles or brain teasers — nothing stressful.

Once Boston University researchers organize the study data and analyze it, we’ll send you a summary of the overall findings. You’ll 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. You’ll also have the option to repeat the test in the future and see how your cognitive abilities change over time.

Ready to Join the Study?

You can join the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia right now. To get started, go to assiststudy.org and select the button that says “Join the Study.” Follow the instructions and do your part today.

About Boston University School of Public Health

Boston University School of Public Health is one of the leading public health graduate schools in the United States. The school started in 1976 as a small department within the Boston University School of Medicine. Since then, BUSPH has grown into an international leader in public health education and research.

The faculty at BUSPH conducts worldwide research with a mission to improve public health, especially among disadvantaged, underserved, and vulnerable populations. Right now, researchers at BUSPH are at the forefront of revolutionary studies like the Framingham Heart Study, the Black Women’s Health Study, the New England Centenarian Study, and now, the ASSIST Study.

About Savonix

At Savonix, we don’t believe in the artificial distinction between mental health and physical health. Our CEO, Mylea Charvat, has a personal connection to dementia: when she was 13 years old, Mylea watched her grandmother lose her memory and her independence to Alzheimer’s disease. Mylea never forgot that experience, and she has made it her life’s mission to understand the brain and how it works.

Based on Mylea’s vision, the team of scientists at Savonix developed a cutting-edge mobile app to assess brain health and cognition. By providing clinically validated brain health assessments at the touch of a button, we increase access to critical tools that can help diagnose dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other problems with memory and thinking. Today, the Savonix mobile platform is in use with patients, doctors, and insurers all over the world.


References

Alzheimer’s and dementia: Facts and figures. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures

Alzheimer’s Impact Movement. (2019, March). Fiscal year 2020 Alzheimer’s research funding [fact sheet]. Retrieved from https://act.alz.org/site/DocServer/2015_Appropriations_Fact_Sheet__FY16_.pdf;jsessionid=00000000.app207a?docID=3641&NONCE_TOKEN=84E7EA421EDC76156AC3036745709BE5

Grill, J. (2019, January 7). Critical need for diversity in Alzheimer’s research. UCI Mind. Retrieved from https://qz.com/1516739/new-alzheimers-research-highlights-the-need-for-diversity-in-medical-studies/