Reliance Medical Centers Supports USF Optimal Aging and Brain Health Research Fund

Thank you to Reliance Medical Centers who has generously supported the USF Optimal Aging and Brain Health Research Fund at the University of South Florida and created the USF-Reliance Optimal Aging Research Laboratory, an in-house research facility at its Lakeland location. This recurring collaboration between Reliance and the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders and will help create a closer partnership between academia and primary care in order to promote optimal aging and potentially protect against mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and related dementias.

Drs. Jennifer Lister and Aryn Bush of the department of Communication Sciences and Disorders have been researching early identification of cognitive decline for over ten years. Dr. Lister explained that, “if cognitive impairment is not identified early, then it is too late”. Once a caregiver starts noticing signs, the disease has already progressed. Early signs often manifest in the sensory realm, such as in hearing, vision, smell, and gait. As an audiologist, Dr. Lister has focused on hearing from brainwaves in relation to sound using EEG measures, as well behavioral measures, such as the presentation of sounds in difficult environments, which mimic real-life situations, where background noise or someone’s accent may detract from understanding. Moreover, Drs. Lister and Bush highlight the importance of speech patterns in older adults, with the decline in speech serving as a primary indicator of cognitive decline. Through her work at Reliance, Dr. Bush explained that an alarming 25% of the patients she is seeing have untreated hearing loss. Armed with the knowledge that hearing loss is in fact treatable, there is the hope that one can treat, prevent, or delay cognitive decline. Through this partnership, Drs. Lister and Bush are very excited to translate this research into preventative care.

Dr. Aryn Bush asserts the importance of a “proactive, preventative not reactive, in crisis” approach, which Reliance passionately follows. Not too long ago, many people felt there was little they could do to stop Alzheimer’s disease or further cognitive decline. But the current literature offers hope for prevention—diseases can be identified nearly twenty years before symptom onset, and that is when treatment should begin.

Dr. Bush explained that at Reliance, the relationship between care and research is fluid. She explained that, “we have science, and what we know from science is being translated to the population we are trying our best to serve and that simultaneously the research being conducted here informs the knowledge base, which is beautiful”. The relationship is cyclical; the Doctors and Care Team help the patients, and the patients help them.

This partnership also allows and increases the number of students at USF CBCS who not only benefit from the knowledge, but also the hands-on experience. Dr. Steven Surrency, interim chair of the department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, expressed his excitement about student involvement and having students on-site to aid in the research as it unfolds.

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