HARLINGEN (Feb. 5, 2013) — “I believe if you are already healthy, why not take a little aspirin?” said Mary Helen Gonzales, 65, a retired teacher’s aide who lives in Harlingen. Mrs. Gonzales voluntarily participates in the Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) study, which asks whether taking a baby aspirin a day can extend the time that a senior citizen is productive and free of disabilities. The School of Medicine of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the study sites.
The ASPREE team seeks participation of 100 more members of ethnic minorities across the Rio Grande Valley who are 65 and older and meet study requirements. Enrollees will receive free evaluations from study personnel in Harlingen at the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC).
“We’ve recruited the most Hispanics of all the U.S. sites for this national study, but we need more,” said Sara Espinoza, M.D., ASPREE lead investigator in South Texas. “It is important to include Hispanic patients in the research so that we can determine whether they may have similar benefits from aspirin compared to other ethnic groups.”
The main goal of ASPREE is to determine whether aspirin prevents dementia and disability, said Dr. Espinoza, assistant professor of geriatrics in the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center. Other studies have looked at whether aspirin prevented heart attack or stroke, but none defined prevention of dementia and disability as endpoints. “Dementia and disability result in loss of independence with age,” Dr. Espinoza said. “Nobody, as they age, wants to become dependent on other people. ASPREE is answering a huge question.”
Mrs. Gonzales’ husband, Juan Ramon Gonzales, turned 68 in December. He was introduced to farm labor at the age of 8, served in the U.S. Air Force in the late 1960s, and worked 34 years for the U.S. Postal Service. He is seen regularly by RAHC faculty member Gary Paradiso, D.O., who practices internal medicine in Harlingen with the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System.
Mr. Gonzales has type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol but is in good health overall. “I’ve been retired 10 years and never looked back. We like fishing and traveling a lot,” he said. “I would like to find out more about my health and stretch it out as long as I can.”
Aspirin is inexpensive and widely available. It has often been prescribed to prevent events such as heart attacks and strokes in otherwise healthy people, and studies have shown that it may prevent cognitive decline. However, aspirin is also known to have adverse effects such as bleeding. ASPREE is determining whether the potential benefits of low-dose aspirin outweigh the risks for people age 65 and older.
The study is randomized and blinded. This means participants are randomly assigned to either a treatment group taking aspirin or a control group taking an inactive placebo. They are not notified of their assignment. Participants must be healthy and not taking aspirin for another reason. There is no cost to subjects, who will be asked to make eight visits to the RAHC over a seven-year period. Reimbursement for subjects’ time is in the form of supermarket gift cards.
“We do assessments that participants might not get elsewhere, including evaluations of frailty such as grip strength and walking speed, and four or five cognitive batteries,” Dr. Espinoza said. “We also ask questions about physical disability and its effect on their daily living and quality of life. These assessments can be taken to their doctor for review.”
Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales go for assessments in the RAHC Clinical Research Unit located in the same building as the Harlingen VA Outpatient Clinic. “It’s wonderful to have this study right here in the Valley,” Mrs. Gonzales said. “It is a beautiful building and the people are so friendly and make us feel so welcome.”
Mrs. Gonzales lovingly served local children for 14 years at Lamar Elementary School. She and her husband, married 43 years with two adult children, now enjoy the fruits of retirement, which include helping others by taking part in ASPREE. “I think this study will be helpful to other people, not only to the Hispanic community but to older Americans,” she said.
To ask about eligibility for the ASPREE study, call 1-877-524-3265 or visit www.ASPREE.org
This work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging, 1 U01AG029824, to Dr. Sara Espinoza, principal investigator.
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