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JABSOM Researchers Study Relationship Between Hula and Alzheimer's

Photo courtesy of University of Hawaii at Manoa John A. Burns School of Medicine

Researchers are studying dementia among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities using the art of hula dancing.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine is partnering with Washington State University for the study, which is part of the broader project Natives Engaged in Alzheimer’s Research.

Funded with a $15 million grant from the National Institute on Aging, NEAR brings together various Native American, Alaskan, and Hawaiian organizations to study how dementia is more prevalent in underserved communities.

JABSOM is particularly interested in how a hula-based intervention can improve or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

"The studies that we’ve done at the medical school and through our department have looked extensively at how a hula-based program can improve hypertension management, or high blood pressure management, in Native Hawaiians," said Mele Look, co-investigator of the ʻIke Kupuna Project at JABSOM.

"We know that for the conditions of the heart, hula has great potential. And vascular disease is one of the risk factors for Alzheimer's," she told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Several lifestyle and stress factors cause Native Hawaiians to be at higher risk for vascular dementia.

"They're more likely to be stressed by working multiple jobs, to stressing over housing costs in Hawaiʻi, to choices of foods, to availability of physical activity options. There may not be sidewalks where they live so walking isn't feasible, or there's no access to parks or other open areas," Look said.

According to JABSOM, community members are more willing to participate in research if the projects are lead by people with similar backgrounds. The UH NEAR project hopes to find promising research data by adapting hula-based intervention.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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