In 2006, researchers at the University of California, Davis, recruited hundreds of fifth-graders and their parents of Mexican origin for a health and development study. The initial plan was to monitor the families for at least three years.
The California Families Project is still going strong in 2022, having expanded – as the fifth-graders grew up and had families of their own -- from a focus on youth drug risks and resilience to a multigenerational look at overall health and well-being.
Florida State University College of Medicine Professor Angelina R. Sutin joined the project in 2018 as the director of the Healthy Aging Substudy. Sutin was completing her doctoral work at UC Davis when the California Families Project (CFP) was launched under the guidance of Richard W. Robins, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology and project director.
“I was not involved in it then,” Sutin said. “I worked with Dr. Robins as a graduate student and we have kept in touch over the years and maintained a collaboration. Several years ago, he reached out to me to brainstorm ideas about whether there are any important aging-related questions that could be addressed in the CFP.
“There was an easy answer to that question – cognitive aging and risk of dementia.”
The opportunity to work with what is regarded as the “most comprehensive longitudinal study of its kind in the United States” was especially appealing to Sutin.
“Hispanic/Latino adults are disproportionately at risk for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias,” Sutin said. “Dr. Robins works with this population and has very rich information on their health and well-being collected over many years. It was really a unique opportunity to examine risk and protective factors for cognitive changes from middle to older adulthood. A better understanding of these factors will help with intervention development for healthier cognitive outcomes.”
According to UC Davis, Sutin and Robins are assessing memory, language and other aspects of cognitive function; tracking activity, sleep, medication and health risks; and measuring cholesterol, blood-sugar, inflammation and COVID-19 exposure in more than 1,000 people. These were the parents of the former fifth-graders in the California Families Project, a generation that is now predominantly in their 40s to 60s.
The full scope of the longitudinal study is covered in a recent article, California Families Project: Resilience and Community, published by UC Davis.