Many of us volunteer our time and skills throughout our adult lives. We spend valuable hours working with a church or a charity, giving of ourselves to help others in our community.
When we retire, this motivation to give doesn't have to end.
But one area where retirees might not think to look for an opportunity to give back is local universities, which seek volunteers continually for research projects. The University of South Florida in Tampa is no exception.
LifeTimes recently spoke with Jerri Edwards, Ph.D., a professor in USF's College of Medicine who is leading a major research project focused on brain health, about her department's search for volunteers and the need for a universal protocol for all USF projects seeking voluntary participants.
In January, the university announced it was looking for 1,600 volunteers age 65 and older to determine, in a yearlong study, whether computer brain exercises can prevent dementia.
How do you go about recruiting these volunteers?
There's no central way of recruiting people to serve. That's one of the barriers we would sincerely like to fix — establishing a center for research recruitment at USF. There are three research studies in our lab we're working on.
Why is a central recruiting policy so important?
Although funding for Alzheimer's disease-related research is increasing, many trials fail to meet enrollment goals, which is a critical barrier to progress. A further challenge is enrolling diverse participants to represent those of minority race and ethnicity, as well as individuals with low socioeconomic status, who are often at higher Alzheimer's disease risk.
So each research project has to do its own outreach for volunteers? What do you do to get the word out?
We try everything. Our own Facebook page. We post advertisements in the newspaper. We try to reach 55-plus communities and offer to speak about brain health, dementia and healthy aging any time we have the opportunity.
How many people have you recruited for this one study so far?
Four hundred adults. It's an ongoing need.
What is the vetting process?
Primarily, we interview people by phone to see if they qualify for the study.
What sort of questions do you ask?
Every research study has criteria. This particular study is pretty open compared to other types of studies: people who are 65 or older who are healthy and have no signs of cognitive impairment, no head or brain injury (and) haven't had a major stroke. There are no age limits or geographic restrictions.
If a person passes the telephone interview, what happens next?
They come to our USF lab for an assessment. It takes about two hours. If they pass, we enroll them in the trial. The person is then placed randomly in one of two types of exercises we have found in past studies that we believe reduce the risk of dementia.
Is there any kind of honorarium or covered expenses for people who are in the study?
In this particular study, there's no payment. We want people who are motivated. When volunteering, it's not always about personal gain. It's about public health. The Alzheimer's Association says that the first person to be cured of Alzheimer's is in a clinical trial.
What is the commitment of time by volunteers accepted into the study?
There are four hours on site and the rest of the study is done by the volunteers for 25 hours at home. They are assigned computerized exercises we believe reduce the risk of dementia. That's part of the study. We look at mental quickness. People who do this training remain driving longer. There are a number of benefits.
How is this type of study rewarding to you?
One of the most rewarding things is that we may have found paths to preventing Alzheimer's.
If someone wants to volunteer for possible participation in your study, or find out what other clinical trials USF is looking for volunteers for, what should they do?
They can call my lab at (813) 974-6703. If necessary, I can access clinical research numbers at USF to call for other trials.
Contact Fred W. Wright Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to get involved
• Older adults interested in research participation at USF can call the USF Cognitive Aging Lab at (813) 974-6703 or go to pactstudy.org.
• People who have depression, Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia can find USF research opportunities at (813) 974-7006 or bit.ly/2y7vgVv.
• People with memory loss can also volunteer in studies at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Center by calling (813) 974-4904 or visiting bit.ly/2Z0soVZ.
• On a broader scale, for research trials related to Alzheimer's disease, individuals can join the Alzheimer's Association TrialMatch registry at bit.ly/2YfRzH1. This tool informs potential research participants about opportunities in the region.
• For those interested in other types of research trials, a broader registry is available at researchmatch.org.