The Sharing History through Active Reminiscence and Photo-imagery (SHARP) Pilot Program brings together community memories of Portland, Oregon’s historically Black neighborhoods to promote physical and cognitive health among older African Americans and to build community awareness about healthy aging. SHARP is a project of the CDC Healthy Brain Research Network, a Prevention Research Centers program funded by the CDC Healthy Aging Program-Healthy Brain Initiative. Dr. Croff of Oregon Health & Science University, departments of public health and neurology, and the Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, leads SHARP and is a native of Portland’s Black community.
SHARP incorporates physical exercise, social engagement, and memory work — behaviors that may promote healthier cognitive aging. In threes, participants take 45-minute walks three times a week for six months and view historic neighborhood images (1940s to 2000s) on a cell phone to prompt conversational reminiscence. At home once a week, participants engage in memory sessions via Skype with a researcher. In the program’s last month, participants take their own neighborhood photos and discuss them during walks and memory sessions. Narratives and images will be featured on a SHARP website as a platform to increase community awareness about the link between health behaviors (like walking and being socially engaged) and cognitive health as we age, African American risk for cognitive impairment including Alzheimer’s Disease, and other resources to promote healthier aging.
In July, the research team and members of the project’s community advisory board took the first test walk. As they walked Williams Avenue, they stopped at places that once animated “the stem” of Black Portland. They viewed an image of the 1963 NAACP march at the corner where it started and a 1947 barber school where condos now stand. But the most memorable moment was when 81 year-old Mr. Johnson pointed with his cane to a spot in a vacant lot: Lou’s Men’s Shop — “it was a haberdashery” he said — and where he worked in the 1950’s. Mr. Johnson’s memories of that busy block are just an example of the rich narratives the SHARP program will cultivate. Participant input in the pilot will help SHARP become a culturally relevant and culturally celebratory cognitive health intervention for other groups elsewhere.
[Above: 1956. The busiest corner of historic Black Portland. Oregon Historical Society. Below (top): Dr. Croff, Ms. Kirkpatrick, and Mr. Johnson stand at a vacant lot and view the historic image. Below (bottom): Mr. Johnson points to where Lou’s Men’s Shop stood.]
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Efforts were supported in part by cooperative agreements from CDC’s Prevention Research Centers Program: U48DP005006-01S2 and 005013. The views of this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.