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Enrolling older African Americans in research registries: A community partnership shows promise

One promising strategy for building a research volunteer registry of older African Americans is developing a partnership between researchers and community members, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the Michigan Center on Urban African American Aging Research, a collaboration involving the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology, report that the number of elderly enrollees in a Detroit-based registry rose from 102 to 1,273 during a 7-year period in which researchers and community leaders worked together to plan and carry out health education activities.

“We speculate that older African Americans were motivated to participate in the health education events because of the visible involvement of their peers on our community advisory board and as volunteers,” said Letha A. Chadiha, Ph.D., lead author of this study.

The Michigan group—one of NIA's six Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMARs)—worked closely with a community advisory board to plan health education offerings each year at inner city locations. They also planned and carried out an annual "health reception," which included health screenings. Attendance at the annual event grew from about 400 in 2003 to 1,100 in 2009, paralleling the ten-fold rise in enrollment in the research registry.

The authors note that they do not have evidence of causality—i.e., that the community partnership and health education events caused the increase in registry enrollments—and that more research is needed. However, they constructed a logic model (see Figure 1), a process evaluation tool, which shows how the strategy unfolded. The model specifies resources, activities, and outcomes in building a community-based partnership and a volunteer registry.

According to the authors, the "logic model...provides a useful theoretical lens for capturing both programmatic efforts and recruitment processes retrospectively." They conclude that it could be a useful tool for planning future research “to go beyond this retrospective process evaluation.”

The article appears in a special supplement to The Gerontologist (2011: 51, suppl 1) , supported by the NIA and the RCMARs, that focused on the science of recruitment and retention of ethnically diverse populations.

Figure 1. Logic model illustrating the recruitment process for building a volunteer registry within the Healthier Black Elders Center.

Figure 1. Logic model illustrating the recruitment process for building a volunteer registry. Courtesy of Oxford University Press.