Meet the Investigators – Still

Carolyn Harmon Still, PhD, MSM, AGPCNP-BC, CCRP
Investigator, OREC

Carolyn Harmon Still, PhD, MSM, AGPCNP-BC, CCRP

Assistant Professor, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case Western Reserve University

Can you please tell me about your role in the CADRC?

I have extensive experience with the recruitment and retention of minorities in clinical trials. The Outreach, Recruitment, and Engagement Core (OREC) is one of five cores for CADRC, that is responsible for the engagement between the center and the community, families, and with people with dementia. My role with the CADRC will be to assist with community engagement and to help with the recruitment and retention of minorities into Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) research and trials. I hope that I can assist the CADRC in terms of recruitment and retention of minorities into AD studies so that researchers can further unravel the complexities of health disparities that are observed in those individuals with AD, as well as further understand the progression and how the rate of AD affects those in minority populations.

Can you please tell me what key questions your research is intended to answer?

I am a nurse scientist and assistant professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at CWRU and I have been in research well over the last 15 years. My research area of expertise includes hypertension clinical outcome trials in older populations, psychosocial assessment of aging population, the management of chronic diseases in older adults, and the recruitment and retention of minorities in clinical trials. I have commenced a program of research that centers on understanding determinants of health and health disparities across the lifespan, including among older vulnerable ethnic minority groups that carry the heaviest burdens of mortality and morbidity from chronic diseases. The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) sought to answer an important question whether treating a systolic blood pressure to less than 130 mmHg (compared to < 140 mmHg) would reduce cardiovascular events, kidney outcomes, and cognitive impairment. Working collaboratively with a variety of health professionals across the nation on the (SPRINT) to unravel the complexities of managing hypertension, our team focused on understanding the burden of hypertension in racial-ethnic groups, as well as the relationships of cognitive function, and brain structure and function and influence on blood pressure. Now that it is understood that lower blood pressure is better, my current research seeks to develop interventions to support and sustain self-managing chronic conditions such as hypertension.

How did you get interested in dementia research?

I have always been fascinated by Alzheimer’s disease. Growing up, I witnessed and cared for a family member with Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed fairly early, in her late 60’s and progressed severely in terms of her cognitive and functional decline as well as her inability to care for herself. Understanding how hypertension and cognitive impairment affects individuals is definitely a research interest of mine. Thus, it is important to recognize the barriers to participating in AD research, but more importantly, address the current underrepresentation of minorities in this type of research. I believe  through continual education and centers such as the CADRC, individuals and families, including minorities will be more informed about the type of research that is being conducted with AD as well as have an opportunity to participate. This will help researchers answer those complex questions about the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

What do you think has been most helpful to your career so far?

Working within the community and studying varying aspects of health illness and healthcare as a nurse scientist has been so promising. Being able to combine my passion for research with my interest in empowering communities to aid and eliminate health disparities is one reason why I am so passionate about my work as a nurse scientist. I am able to lead multidisciplinary research and develop innovative and synergistic combinations of research. I love that I can build community partnerships to deliver health disparities research while improving cardiovascular disease and health. I think just working with communities that have common interest and goals in mind will help us ensure that underserved and under reached populations are included in research endeavors such as the CADRC.

Specific to the ADRC, what do you think has been helpful to your research?

Working collaboratively with such a wonderful group on the SPRINT trial for the last 10 years has laid the foundation for me in terms of understanding the relationship of blood pressure and cognitive decline. As I continue to increase my knowledge in the field of AD research, I am also a nurse practitioner in the Cleveland Brain Health Clinic at the UH Otis Moss Health Center. One goal of the CADRC is to partner with various institutions and organizations to create a presence and build trust in the community to promote recruitment and retention in AD research. Having a dedicated Brain Health Clinic will have a profound impact on underserved communities, their health, and quality of life, as well as inform and engage minority populations in various AD or brain health research.

What does the future of dementia research look like to you?

I think the CADRC will serve as a strong foundation with the appropriate infrastructure and expertise to assist researchers to investigate various aspects of AD research.