Written by Mateo Blair, BS candidate at Washington University in St. Louis and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program
The Summer Research Program – Aging & Neurological Diseases Track, was everything I could have asked for in a return to summer life post-pandemic. As somebody with minimal research experience, being able to dip my toes in the world of research was a very worthwhile experience that I will reflect on positively.
I spent the past 2 months or so part of Dr. Stark’s lab in her ongoing COMPASS study. COMPASS is a novel transition program to reduce disability after stroke. The study is a randomized controlled trial of individuals 50 or older who have had a stroke, were in inpatient rehab, and were discharged to the home. All participants were recruited from Barnes-Jewish Hospital or The Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis. For study enrollment, participants needed to be independent in activities of daily living prior to stroke, must be community dwelling, and have scored better than a 10 on the short blessed test. After discharge, participants are randomly assigned to one of two groups. The treatment group received home modification and a self-management program, the control group received stroke education at home.
My summer project was a secondary study using data collected through COMPASS. I was able to pick my area of research within the parent study and settle upon the relationships between certain demographics and stroke outcomes. Specifically, I spent the summer investigating the relationship between race and socioeconomic status as predictors of depressive symptoms post stroke. Stroke outcomes can be influenced by depression, in most cases depression will worsen outcomes and has even been shown to increase mortality among stroke survivors up to five years following the initial stroke. Depression is thought to occur in about a third of all stroke survivors in the United States. In our country, a large body of evidence points to stroke incidence and mortality being highest among African Americans. Despite its prevalence, depression post-stroke continues to be understudied and underdiagnosed, especially among low income and minority stroke survivors, the population that has been shown to be most affected by strokes.
Being able to come up with my own research topic and question was a great experience but not without its roadblocks. Despite having a very heavy background in STEM, I had little knowledge of how to interpret or analyze data. I had to learn many basic data manipulation techniques as well as how to navigate programs like R and SPSS. These skills and knowledge will likely be very useful in my future, regardless of where my path takes me.