Researchers Find Moderate Vascular Risk in Southwest Native Population

Apr 21, 2016

Pilot Study Examines Cognition, Depressive Symptoms and Vascular Factors among Southwest Tribal Elders


Brooklyn, NY – In a newly published, pilot study in the journal Ethnicity & Disease, researchers report a relatively low prevalence of vascular risk among participants of the Southwest Heart Mind Study, especially among those treated for hypertension and hyperlipidemia despite overweight and obesity.

Researchers Deborah Gustafson, PhD, MS, and Francine Gachupin, PhD, MPH, led the research team comprising both academic researchers and tribal program personnel. The research results were gained from culturally fair instruments and the collection of several biomarkers (physical measurements, blood chemistries, etc.). The research identified cognitive and depressive symptoms as well as cardiovascular, lifestyle, and demographic factors of 37 Southwest Tribal elders aged 55 years and older. 

Dr. Gustafson is professor of neurology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Dr. Gachupin is assistant director of the University of Arizona Cancer Center’s Cancer Health Disparities Program and the Native American Research and Training Center.

The researchers note that American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities in the United States are aging; the older AIAN population (Non-Hispanic and Hispanic) was 212,605 in 2007 and is projected to reach almost 918,000 by 2050. The Southwest US is home to most AI communities. Accompanying aging is a profound increase in vascular and metabolic diseases – many due to obesity. Among AIANs, the study team expects to identify 23,850 persons age 65 years and older as having had dementia in 2010, a number they expect to increase to 100,980 by 2050.
The researchers conducted a pilot survey, the Southwest Heart Mind Study (SHMS), to ascertain the feasibility of assessing cognitive and depressive symptoms, and cardiovascular, lifestyle, and demographic factors. They measured demographic, social network, and risk factor surveys; tests of cognition, depression and anxiety; physical measurements; blood biochemistries; and APOE genotyping. The Southwest Tribe within the study is from the Albuquerque Area (AA) of the Indian Health Service. At the time of this survey there were 19% (16,293/86,000) of individuals age 50 years and older in the AA.  These pilot data form the basis for future investigations.

The article is published in the spring 2016 issue of Ethnicity & Disease, a scholarly journal dedicated to publishing research on the causal and the associative relationships of disease among ethnic populations. The SHMS was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) U26 IHS 300287/01. An abstract of the article is available at: .

Researcher Contact Information
Deborah Gustafson, PhD;, (347) 536-4865
Francine Gachupin, PhD;, (520) 621-5072
About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UA Health Sciences includes the UA Colleges of Medicine (Phoenix and Tucson), Nursing, Pharmacy and Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona and the greater Southwest to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services. A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs almost 5,000 people, has nearly 1,000 faculty members and garners more than $126 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information:



About SUNY Downstate Medical Center

SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively.

SUNY Downstate ranks twelfth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.